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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 12:35 GMT
Head to head: MMR controversy
Shadow health secretary Liam Fox explains why he thinks the government should offer parents an alternative to MMR the controversial measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

But Health Minister Yvette Cooper insists that the best medical advice shows MMR is safe.


Liam Fox

Our policy has always been very clear. We said two years ago that if the public's confidence in MMR did not rise and that immunisation rates fall that there would inevitably be outbreaks of measles and in these circumstances we would have to look at what needed to be done to raise the total level of immunisation.

At the moment the choice for parents is MMR or nothing and sadly many of them are choosing - despite the evidence - to have nothing and I don't think that's acceptable.

If MMR rates weren't already falling - where we get them down to levels of 65% as we've got in parts of London - that's clearly putting children at risk and we have to ask what are we going to do to get the levels of immunisation up if parents are not going to accept MMR?

I think that any increased choice for parents should be accompanied by a redoubling of the efforts to convince parents that MMR, according to the evidence is the best way of doing it.

Ultimately it's about protecting children and if you can't give them what you regard as the best protection you have to give them some protection and giving them nothing as the alternative is going inevitably to lead to more children suffering from measles and the potential consequences of that.

[There] is a big fall in immunisation rates not because of the evidence but what the public perceive as the evidence and the important thing is what parents believe at the time.

It's clear that the government haven't convinced the public that MMR is as safe as they say.

I think that's very unfortunate but the inevitable result of that is that immunisation rates are falling more in the UK than anywhere else.

It's all very well to say we want the best for our children but if parents are not willing to accept MMR are we willing to accept no immunisation as an alternative?


Yvette Cooper

Parents want the safest option for their children and the medical advice to us is very clear from the chief medical officer, from the Royal College, from the British Medical Association, from the World Health Organisation as well, that MMR is the safest way to vacciniate children against very deadly diseases.

In addition to that they also tell us very clearly that introducing separate immunisations would reduce coverage, would lead to more children being unimmunised, would lead to more children unprotected, more children at risk, more children falling sick, more children in hospital and in the end more children dying and damaged as a result.

That is the medical advice that we have received and in the face of that advice I think we have a responsibility to do what is right to protect childrens' health.

The advice that we have is very clear and it hasn't changed.

The independent experts and the medical experts that advise us continually reassess the evidence and look at all the new evidence and their advice has not changed so our position has not changed.

No government should close its mind to new evidence at any stage but that is not the situation we are in here so lets not plant doubts in people's minds becasue that's not the situation we are in here.

All of the medical experts are categorical with us about this.

They say that MMR is the safest option. They don't say 'we doubt this, we're not sure'.


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See also:

06 Feb 02 | UK Politics
06 Feb 02 | Health
06 Feb 02 | England
04 Feb 02 | Scotland
23 Dec 01 | UK Politics
19 Dec 01 | UK Politics
13 Dec 01 | Health
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