Page last updated at 11:10 GMT, Friday, 7 December 2007

The 'spotty bus' tackling measles

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

'Spotty bus'
Hackney has sent its 'spotty bus' round the borough
A measles epidemic in Hackney, London, worried Alex Edwards so much she decided to get her children vaccinated.

Concerned about the suspected link between autism and the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) jab, she was reluctant to get her two youngest children immunised.

"I was worried about the MMR and my husband did not agree with it. Someone in his family had autism."

But this week Rosa, aged three and Lewis, aged five, had their jabs on the 'spotty bus' at Millfields school, in Clapton, Hackney.

Jab fears

"I was a lot happier because I have now read a lot of information about the MMR," Alex explained.

Everybody has seen the bus while we have been driving round the borough and have noticed its spots and the message to get immunised
Charity Kanotangudza

This year 317 children from Hackney have been infected with measles - the worst number of cases in the UK.

In response, the borough has invested in a 'spotty bus' to raise awareness about the issue by touring schools and supermarkets.

Since the bus was launched at the end of October there have been more than 800 children vaccinated with the MMR and other childhood vaccines.

MMR coverage began to drop in the late 1990s when Dr Andrew Wakefield suggested that there might be a link between autism and the jab.

A string of major scientific studies has since found that MMR is perfectly safe.

And Dr Wakefield and two colleagues are currently facing professional misconduct charges over their controversial research into MMR.

The latest figures show that 88% of UK children begin school having had one dose of MMR.

The first dose can be given from 12 months of age onwards, but two doses are needed to ensure full protection so children are also given a pre-school booster.

Rosa, Luis, Lewis and mum Alex Edwards
The Edwards family are up-to-date with jabs

Until those figures climb far higher, health officials say people should not assume their children are safe from measles.

"The 'spotty bus' has been a real success," said Charity Kanotangudza, a Hackney PCT immunisation nurse.

"We have had some people coming and saying they did not get their child immunised because of worries about Dr Wakefield's research, but others said they couldn't get appointments at their doctors, or that they had been busy at work.

"This way we are bringing the bus to them.

"It has been a big success. Everybody has seen the bus while we have been driving round the borough and have noticed its spots and the message to get immunised," she added.

Responding well

Melissa Lloyd, mum to Zakiya, aged eight, said she had been delighted when she heard the bus was coming straight to the school as it gave her a chance to get her daughter vaccinated before lessons and with the minimal of fuss.

"The bus is a very good idea," she said.

"I was very worried about the measles outbreak and wanted to make sure Zakiya was OK and she has had her MMR now."

Debbie Banks gave both her eight-year-old twin their first shot of MMR as toddlers.

But her confidence in the safety of the jab was knocked when one of the twins, Nicole, who suffers from haemoplegia - paralysis down one side of the body- started having epileptic.

Debbie started to worry that there might be a link with the jab, and decided against giving the girls the pre-school booster.

"Everybody said it was nothing to do with the jab, but I had my suspicions," said Debbie.

But when she heard that Hackney had a measles outbreak, Debbie decided that it would be wrong not to go ahead with the follow-up jabs.

"I was so worried when I heard there had been an outbreak," she said. "The bus is a really good idea to catch everyone."

Lizzie Banks
Lizzie Banks and her twin have been protected

Dr Jose Figueroa, from the trust, said: "We've worked for months to raise awareness of the importance of the MMR vaccine, and the community has responded well; immunisations have gone up and cases have been reduced.

"We hope that the mobile unit will now help us find every last unprotected child and finally put an end to this outbreak."

Dr Gabrielle Laing, consultant community paediatrician for the PCT agreed: "The return of measles in Hackney has reminded us of the importance of all immunisations.

"The 'spotty bus' is taking immunisation to families and gives parents the chance to bring their child's immunisations up to date and prevent serious disease," she said.

Deborah Turbitt , from the Health Protection Agency, said the bus was a big asset in protecting health in the borough.

"The North East and Central London Health Protection Unit has been working closely with the PCT to tackle the measles outbreak in Hackney since it began earlier in the summer.

"We want to stress that MMR is a safe vaccine and therefore parents should welcome initiatives like the travelling MMR bus which make receiving the first dose so simple.

"We hope to see the outbreak slow as more children get two doses of the MMR vaccine."

Parents, who have still not had their children vaccinated can, at the bus' last stop, at Morrison's supermarket in Stamford Hill on Sunday 9th December from 11-5pm.

Measles outbreaks hits 300 mark
14 Nov 07 |  London
Measles 'surge' prompts warning
30 Aug 07 |  Health
Q&A: The MMR debate
16 Jul 07 |  Health


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