The UK is in danger of a major measles outbreak because so few children have the MMR jab, according to a leading specialist.
Dr Simon Murch has warned that MMR uptake is as low as 60% in some areas rather than the 95% coverage required for maximum protection, leaving British children vulnerable to disease.
Dr Murch was involved in the original research that sparked fears that the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccination might be linked to autism, but he maintains that there is no proven link between the two.
What are your feelings towards the MMR jab? Should children have it? Send us your views.
This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:
Vaccinate your children. Measles is a killer, we have forgotten this because thankfully MMR has done its job but with so many foolishly choosing not to vaccinate their children we will see a new epidemic. Percentage wise autism affects the same number of unvaccinated children as vaccinated.
Duncan McDonald, Salisbury, UK
Having listened to the comments of one health specialist/doctor on the Six O'clock news tonight I am appalled that parents are being blamed for causing the increase in cases of measles due to the lack of take up of MMR! I have a two year old daughter and opted amid the confusion and mixed messages to give her single vaccines. I have had immense difficulty obtaining all three of the vaccines and at a price. They were not massively expensive but this is of course relative to your income. Many people could simply not afford to ensure their child is vaccinated with the single doses so the child goes without, as similar to me the parents are too frightened, even after research, to have the MMR vaccine administered to their child. If parents who were dubious of or simply against the MMR they should be given the choice of how to obtain the single vaccines and assistance with the payment of these vaccines, by paying a small amount each week rather than in one lump sum perhaps.
Miss L Somerville, England
Statistics are dangerous things especially when only a few numbers are involved. Most of the research which scares the living daylights out of many parents is based on low numbers of statistics. Statistics might have shown that children with autism had had the MMR jab but that would not be surprising when 95% of children had had the jab.
John M, UK
As a father of an 8 year old daughter with autism with a circle of friends in the autism affected community I can only add that everyone is ignoring the parents themselves who say they have seen autistic traits develop almost immediately after the MMR jab. One family I know has two children with autism - one like my own daughter could not be attributed to the MMR vaccine. The other child, the parents are adamant that the changes took place after the jab. I know of other families (of sensible well meaning parents like those of you who believe the vaccine to be safe) who saw what happened to their children following the jab and the onset of autistic symptoms. A group of parents who have been trying to seek compensation for what they saw happen to their children have had their legal aid removed. No new research into the causes of autism has been undertaken despite its rise in prevalence. All MMR research does is analyse old research to try and dispel the fear. Why won't the government go looking for the cause of the problem?
In this "peoples government" obviously the only people who count are the officials. We all have to do what they say.
Why not just give parents the choice of single or triple jabs? Surely some protection is better than having an epidemic??
John R Smith, UK
To my mind, the decision to not take the MMR vaccine beggars belief. Yes, it has side-effects; producing a drug that didn't in any of the six billion people on the planet would be a miracle worthy of the parting of the red sea, but the risk of getting measles mumps or rubella if you don't take the vaccine is far higher and a lot more destructive, as the diseases are contagious and liable to spread. In the future, a new vaccine may be produced, in the same way that many drugs will be improved as understanding and techniques improve, but at the moment, the MMR vaccine is the best and safest way of preventing an MMR outbreak. Well done Dr Murch for saying so.
I would guess that the only real link between MMR and autism is that vaccinations can leave the immune system rather less resistant to infections such as the stomach bugs that are thought to contribute to the development of autism. That would seem to be a good argument for single rather than multiple vaccines, and parents should be given the choice. Having said that, I agree with Bhavya Young - my brother is autistic, and although bringing up a child with autism is extremely difficult, there are potentially worse and far more likely consequences from not having the vaccinations at all.
S Weekes, Wales
Both of my children have had the MMR jab and are fine, however I have a friend whose child was perfectly normal before the jab and developed autism within 14 days of having it. As a result I, like many others on this page, have spent ages trawling the net looking for an explanation and my, admittedly non-expert, research seems to indicate that there is a link between the measles virus (as opposed to the triple vaccine per se) and Autism and Bowel disease, possibly due to genetic factors that have not yet been fully explored. If this is the case, it seems to me that a single vaccine isn't going to help, because if your child is genetically pre-disposed to autism as a result of the measles virus, he or she will get it anyway as a result of being exposed to the single vaccine. Surely the powers that be should be putting money into proper medical research into this apparent genetic link between measles and autism, rather than trying to prove a negative using statistics; if this were done, then maybe people whose children are not at risk could be more easily persuaded to take up the MMR jab and in so doing provide the much needed "herd vaccination" effect for those vulnerable children who shouldn't be exposed to the measles virus and so desperately need protecting from it.
My personal belief is that MMR is safe and my son has been vaccinated 100%. My observation, however, is that some babies react extremely badly to vaccinations in general. Upset stomachs, feverishness, and general discomfort could go on for days in some cases. It has led me to think that these are the children that should be offered single vaccines as a precaution against 'overloading' their systems.
As a parent I have had both my children vaccinated and would recommend the same to everyone else. At the moment we do not have serious outbreaks of the infection vaccinated against, but as the percentage of those not bothering increases, the probabilities of epidemics becomes greater.
I understand the decision to provide only MMR on the NHS. I don't understand the narrow minded, bullying, dictatorship that does everything possible to endanger those who choose, and are prepared to pay, for their children to have single vaccines privately. Some immunisation must be better than no immunisation and measures to ensure the quality of the products used in the UK must be in the public interest. Why can no-one in the Government step back from the rhetoric and see this simple fact?
Paul Beard, UK
As I see it it's a matter of risk, is the risk of your child getting measles, mumps or rubella less than the risk of autism caused by the MMR jab? Given that there is no conclusive evidence that MMR does cause autism, and that autism is relatively rare anyway (compared with measles, it seams to me to be a far safer bet to give your child the MMR, when she is old enough my daughter will have the MMR. I can also say I'm rather alarmed at the thought that other parents refusal to let their children have MMR could cause a measles epidemic that would put my daughter at a greater risk.
I have an adopted daughter who has Congenital Rubella Syndrome - the name given to the group of birth defects caused when a pregnant woman catches Rubella in the first trimester. The science says the MMR is safe, and I would like to add this: I would rather find myself caring for an autistic child than watch my daughter struggle through blindness, deafness and severe brain damage with the likelihood of death within 10 years from heart and kidney defects.
Bhavya Young, England
My mother caught Measles as a child and spent weeks in Birmingham Children's Hospital. She was one of the lucky ones. Some of the other children who caught measles died. My Line Manager at work is partially deaf after contracting measles as a toddler. With this in mind my four year old has had both MMR jabs. She is absolutely fine.
Sarah Miles, UK
Personally I think having the MMR should be a condition to attend any public childcare - so no MMR no school, no nursery etc. If parents want to choose to go against all sensible advice then they should take the consequences of their actions - why should their foolishness put other children at risk?
I am having a real bad time with the MMR. I don't believe the Doctors, or the Government. I opted for the single jabs for my boy, only to find that I was robbed by a so called Dr in Elstree who has been closed down, I don't know if he is immune or not. I, and many others, want a choice at present I don't, it's vaccinate or not, what choice is that? This government must wake up before their intransigence costs lives! The government have got to ask them selves what is the best way to get vaccination rates up, clearly it is choice.
Steve B, UK
I believe most parents, like us, would like a choice between Single and Combined jabs. However, given we are not allowed that choice I believe the risks of not being immunised far outweigh the risks of the MMR jab.
As always I fear issues such as these are a matter of economics. I personally do not feel assured that the MMR vaccine is safe, and as far as I am concerned any doubt however small is something I am not willing to tolerate when it comes to the health of my children. Most importantly (for me anyway) I do not trust our government that if told the MMR vaccine would save them many millions of pounds, however it may cause an increase in autism cases and have other side effects, that they would have made the moral rather than the economical choice.
Anyone who is selfish enough not to have the child vaccinated using the MMR jab is going to put them through unnecessary illness and distress.
My sister was one of the guinea pigs for the triple booster back in the 1980s. She's now at university, and well-adjusted, healthy individual. The alleged link is frankly a statistically insignificant nonsense, and scant justification not to vaccinate. Measles, mumps and rubella are diseases which disfigure and kill, and by not vaccinating parents are not only putting their children at risk, but the health of their communities and the nation. How easily people forget the scourges of the last century when we had worked so hard to get free of them.
Damian Leach, UK
It seems extraordinary to me that anyone should think it OK to put three doses of anything into a young child at the same time. These are all powerful injections for a young body to withstand. What is the problem with single jabs, so long as all parents are encouraged to have them done?
The scientists disagree, but the Government only publicise the positive, and let's be honest, nobody really believes anything that New Labour say any more. The reports I have read suggests that there is a risk, but it is minimal. Why can they not just be honest? We also have the farce regarding Leo Blair's jab/ jabs - If he had the MMR jab, I am sure that Blair would have said. So we have Blair re-assuring us that MMR is safe, whilst apparently doing the opposite.
John C, Bath, England
Of course children should have the MMR. Vaccines have been given in multiples for years and very very few children have adverse side effects - far less than will be seriously affected by the diseases they prevent. My three children have had all the vaccinations they were due - my daughter was one of the first to have the HIB vaccination - I have never had any doubts at all.
Elizabeth Pearce, England
Overwhelming evidence has shown that MMR is safe. Stop whingeing and protect your children from these killer diseases. It is irresponsible not to.
Of course children should have the MMR. Vaccines have been given in multiples for years and very, very few children have adverse side effects - far less than will be seriously affected by the diseases they prevent. My three children have had all the vaccinations they were due - my daughter was one of the first to have the Hib vaccination - I have never had any doubts at all.
Elizabeth Pearce, England
As always I fear issues such as these are a matter of economics. I personally do not feel assured that the MMR vaccine is safe, and as far as I am concerned any doubt however small is something I am not willing to tolerate when it comes to the health of my children.
These days we have such a lot of well meant, but incomplete information for making our decisions. In the case of MMR, the resultant "Consumer Concern" has meant that parents now not only risk their own children's health, but that of others too. I do hope our children are taught better skills for critical appraisal of twenty-first century information than we were.
When my partner weighed up the options when our son was due for his jabs, we decided on a course of single jabs. Why? Well, we could afford it and even the slightest risk was not worth taking, regardless of evidence. My sympathy is for those who have this dilemma but don't have the funds to take a course of single jabs.
Mike Easdon, UK
This row will continue to go on for years, and in the meantime the only people suffering are the children. Regardless of what people think it is a parents' right to choose what they feel is best for their children, and the government is forcible stopping this by not allowing parents to choose single vaccines on the NHS. Instead those that can afford will pay privately, those that cannot have to forego vaccination because they believe the only option is too dangerous.
Alex Fielding,Scotland, UK
The simple truth of the matter is that the risks "apparently" associated with the MMR jab, are grossly insignificant to the potential damage the measles can cause. When a child's life is potentially put at risk by not having the jab, I know where my decision would go.
I had concerns about my first child having the Jab, but did my own research on the internet. I now have a second child and have no doubts about them receiving the MMR. The overwhelming evidence for the use of MMR far outweighs the isolated pockets of 'evidence' against. I confident I have done the best for my children by protecting them.
Like Glen, I did a lot of research using the local authorities and the internet. Didn't find any definite link between illness and MMR. I have no qualms about vaccination. Parents SHOULD vaccinate...It's the only reasonable decision.
Lee Feltham, England
The whole situation is crazy. The government is risking the health of the nation's children for the sake of a principle. Whatever the scientific merits of the MMR jab over separate inoculations it seems poor practice to remove the parental choice - and the result has been a mass boycott - certainly in no one's interest. This government should get real and consider the bigger picture rather than sticking to principles to the last.
I cannot believe the hysteria going around. As things are ducking witches should be coming back any day soon. My son had the MMR jab as advised, and I have no concerns whatsoever. Bizarrely, those people I know who went for the single jabs were those that could afford to, and in my mind also should be above hysteria. The single line that convinced me, other than ignoring rumour, is that this combined jab has been in the USA for 20 years and everyone is fine. Please, give yourself a shake and get your kid protected. Oh, and in protecting your kid, you prevent their friends getting ill too.
Mike Sweetman, UK
The MMR jab is not totally effective, and according to some studies has worse side effects than catching the diseases. I fail to understand why the single vaccines are not wanted by the government - is anything free in this country any more? Additionally, the way to a healthy population with a strong immune system is by giving it some exercise and maintaining hygiene - artificially supporting everyone's system with the crutches of vaccines is potentially lethal - when the crutches disappear people will fall.
Mike Sweetman is naive when he says that "this combined jab has been in the USA for 20 years and everyone is fine". Studies have shown that cases of autism have more than trebled in some parts of the US since the 1980's. There is a case for saying that this may be due to better diagnoses than a rise in the actual condition, but I don't believe the situation is anything like as rosy as Mr Sweetman suggests.
Both of my very healthy daughters had MMR. It protects them and the whole community from the spread of dread diseases. Parents who refuse the MMR jab are helping to spread disease to other people's children and should face sanctions for such anti-social behaviour.
Andrew Dundas, UK
Whilst it is true that there is no proven link, there is enough talk about it to worry parents enough that they don't want to risk it for their kids. The Government should therefore provide individual jabs instead and problem solved!
Andy GM Wood, UK (London)
Giving a child three illnesses at once is madness. Forget whether it can cause autism or bowel disorder, these jabs should be given individually. The only reason to give the combined one is to save money. What cost our children's health?
Jeff from UK is wrong when he says "the only reason to give the three jabs at once is to save money". Another, important, reason is that parents are far more likely to miss out a jab when they have to go to the doctors three times than if they only have to go once.
The MMR controversy is to me a classic example of media scaremongering, which will soon have real and unfortunate consequences. It saddens me that people do not try and seek out objective medical research on the issue for themselves (and contrary to popular belief, there is plenty), and at least try and understand it rather than get their evidence from the 'quality tabloids'. If ever there was an argument for greater scientific literacy in society, this is it.
Martin White, UK
It's not about feelings. It's about science. And the science says "vaccinate". End of story.
Dr Tim Chappell, Scotland
To Dr Tim Chappell: I agree it's about science and I agree we should vaccinate our children. But science is NOT currently clear about whether it is entirely safe to vaccinate in a single MMR jab or separately. I have a nine month old daughter. Even if there is the SLIGHTEST risk the MMR jab might cause autism, I do not want to risk it. I am not concerned about principles here and am not even concerned about whether there is overwhelming evidence going either way (although I do believe that the government should think less about expense and more about the health of children). I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can say I can even pay for separate vaccinations, so I won't be relying on NHS funds. The question I have is this: where can I go to pay and have separate vaccinations for my daughter?