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Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
MMR: A needless dilemma?
Dr Adrian Midgely reassures parents the MMR is safe
The introduction of the MMR vaccine in 1988 should have heralded the end of three common diseases - measles, mumps and rubella.

But when researchers raised fears that the jab may be linked to autism and bowel disease in 1994, parents found themselves in a dilemma when their child reached 15 months - the time when the first dose of the vaccine is taken.

Although the scientists could find little evidence to back up their theories, many parents were frightened and over the past few years have chosen not to have their children vaccinated.

Now Professor Liam Donaldson, the government's Chief Medical Officer for England and Wales, has warned that the UK could face an epidemic of the three diseases if people continue to refuse the jab - recently given a clean bill of health by a long-term large-scale study.

Devastating effect

One woman who is particularly alarmed by the drop of in vaccination rates is Jane Mulholland.

Life will always be difficult for the Mulhollands
She caught rubella while pregnant, and the result is that her son Roger was born deaf and blind.

"It's very frightening. People don't seem to take seriously what sort of damage rubella can do," she told the BBC.

"All the things we thought might be going to happen with Roger - the playgroup, the birthday teas - they don't happen.

"Lots of other things happen - hospitals and various therapies - but not the everyday things people look forward to.

"I really wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy."

Genuine side effects

The known and confirmed side effects of the MMR vaccine are minimal and only affect a small proportion of children.

The two-stage vaccine is started around 15 months
They include fever, a measles-like rash, swelling of the lymph glands, and mild pain in the joints.

Some parents remain cautious, however, about injecting their child with small amounts of three diseases at the same time. They are convinced that it must do some damage.

However, the government recently banned the importation of single-disease vaccines, removing one option concerned parents had been taking.

Health experts argue that taking the vaccines separately takes longer, meaning there is more chance diseases could develop.

They fear the MMR scare will lead to more and more children going without any immunisation against the three diseases, creating a pool of infection in the community.

Making the decision

Mothers at Two Moors Primary School in Exeter have had to cope with conflicting information and draw their own conclusions.

"We weren't properly informed - the newspapers were saying one thing, but I thought it was safest to get the girls vaccinated," said one.

Another opted for self-education and took her own clinical decision.

"I've read all the leaflets and thought about it a lot, and I thought the benefits outweighed the dangers," she said.

Dr Adrian Midgely - like most other GPs - seeks to reassure parents and calm their fears over the vaccine.

And he is sure that if people had a better recollection of what measles, mumps and rubella did, they might be less hesitant in seeking immunisation for their children.

"They don't remember when these diseases were around and common, and caused a great deal of misery and discomfort, and, in some cases, death. Measles kills children," he said.

See also:

11 Jun 99 | Health
MMR: anatomy of a scare
11 Jun 99 | Health
Parents reassured on vaccine
29 Aug 99 | Health
Measles and mumps vaccines banned
16 Sep 99 | Health
Children face epidemic fear
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