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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 22:39 GMT
MP mothers clash over MMR
A child receiving an MMR jab
MPs were told parents should have a choice over MMR
A minister and a Tory MP - both mothers of young children - have clashed in a parliamentary debate over the safety of the controversial MMR triple vaccine.

Tory MP Julie Kirkbride, who has refused to vaccinate her toddler with the combined measles, mumps and rubella jab, called for the NHS to offer single inoculations against MMR amid concerns that take-up rates were dropping to dangerously low levels.


The way we actually raise the number of children who are vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella is to give the parents choice that they actually want

Julie Kirkbride
Tory MP

But Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper - whose two children have received the triple vaccine - branded the Tories "irresponsible" for ditching the best medical advice and defended government policy not to offer the choice.

She accused Ms Kirkbride of misleading parents with wrong information.

Opening debate in Westminster Hall, Ms Kirkbride, the MP for Bromsgrove, argued that "the minister has undermined public confidence by not allowing public choice".

"The way we actually raise the number of children who are vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella is to give the parents choice that they actually want."

Public health minister Yvette Cooper
Yvette Cooper's children have received the triple vaccine

She told Ms Cooper to "accept life as it is rather than life as you would like it to be".

Prime Minister Tony Blair has repeatedly refused to disclose whether his youngest child Leo has been given the MMR vaccine.

Shadow health spokesman Tim Loughton said it was "irresponsible" of the Government's Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson "to say taking a single jab is like playing Russian roulette".

"Concerned parents have now been added to the ranks of 'wreckers' and however much the minister may disagree with them, they have genuine fears, are exercising their power to opt-out if they see fit," he said.

'Opportunism'

"The government needs urgently to restore confidence - until it can take every step to increase the coverage it should offer choice."

Ms Cooper said she "deeply" regretted the climate in which the debate was taking place and the "opportunism" of some opposition MPs on such an important issue.


Parents are being misled into believing that the single jabs are somehow less risky

Yvette Cooper
Public health minister

"All the expert bodies have been very clear on this and their advice to us as ministers has been very strong: there is plenty of evidence showing no link between MMR and autism and that we should continue with a programme offering MMR and not separate vaccines."

She said parents were being "misled into believing that the single jabs are somehow less risky" by Ms Kirkbride.

"She is simply wrong in this area and she is misleading parents as a result."

She added coverage would fall if the government introduced single jabs on the NHS.

"The honourable members opposite are asking us to say 'we want to implement a policy that would put those children at risk, it would put more children across the country at risk'.

Shadow health secretary Liam Fox - as a doctor - "should know better" than to call for single jabs and should listen to the medical experts, she said.

Dr Evan Harris, for the Liberal Democrats, said he supported the promotion of MMR on the NHS but called on the government to abandon immunisation target payments for GPs.

See also:

21 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blair should tell about MMR - Labour MP
20 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Milburn invoiced by pal over MMR
20 Feb 02 | Health
Parents vote for single jabs
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