Page last updated at 14:56 GMT, Friday, 6 February 2009

London sees highest measles rise

MMR vaccine
Uptake of the MMR jab in London is particularly low

London saw the highest number of measles cases across England and Wales in 2008, figures have shown.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said confirmed cases in England and Wales rose from 990 in 2007 to 1,348 in 2008, representing a 36% increase.

Of these, 662 cases occurred in London. The HPA said most of the cases occurred in children not fully vaccinated with the combined MMR jab.

London has seen a particularly low uptake of the vaccination.

The increase across England and Wales is the highest since the monitoring scheme was introduced in 1995.

'Irresponsible behaviour'

Immunisation expert Dr Mary Ramsay said the rise was "very worrying", adding measles "should not be taken lightly".

Public confidence in the triple MMR vaccine dipped following research, which has since been discredited, suggesting the jab may be linked to an increased risk of autism.

It led to some parents opting to pay privately for single vaccines.

The Department of Health has provided extra funding to PCTs and additional supplies of vaccine.

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said it was "irresponsible" for parents not to have their children vaccinated.

He said: "I think it's irrational, I think it's putting children's lives at risk. I can see no shred of benefit.

"There is no evidence that having vaccines separately is better. There are good reasons why it's worse."

Dr Simon Tanner, director of public health at NHS London said: "Reassuring parents that the MMR vaccine is safe and encouraging them to protect their children from measles is a major priority in London.

"Measles is highly contagious - a simple cough or sneeze is all it takes to spread the virus, so if your child is not immunised there is a high risk they will get measles."

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