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Chief political correspondent John Morrison
"The committee recognised that parents do have concerns"
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Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK
Report calls for more MMR research
Girl receives jag
The report's findings were published on Wednesday
Members of the Scottish Parliament have called for the creation of an expert committee to carry out further research into the controversial measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

A report by the parliament's health committee concluded that there was no reason to doubt the safety of the triple injection.

It said that on the current evidence, there was no scientific link between autism and the triple vaccine.

But the committee acknowledged that there were still many unanswered concerns.

Mary Scanlon
Mary Scanlon: Author of the MMR report
It called for the creation of a working group, which would report back on the issues within six months.

The findings of the report were likely to fuel an ongoing row between the Scottish Executive, which backs the MMR vaccine, and several parents groups' who believe it is linked to the onset of autism in children.

Its publication also created a storm after the report's author, Conservative health spokeswoman Mary Scanlon, complained about alleged political intervention during the committee's investigation.

On Tuesday, the MSP said she had received information from colleagues that ministers had been actively trying to undermine the report - an allegation that was labelled "a smokescreen" by the Scottish Executive.

In its report, the committee said it had no reason to doubt the safety of the vaccine and was not recommending any change to the present immunisation programme "at this time".

It would be highly irresponsible for us to endorse a policy of single vaccines without full knowledge of its consequences

Health committee report
It acknowledged that the decision on whether or not to make single vaccines available was a "complex" issue.

"It would be highly irresponsible for us to endorse a policy of single vaccines without full knowledge of its consequences," said the report.

Committee convener Margaret Smith said the executive should set up an expert working group to address the concerns raised in the unanimous cross-party report.

"Ministers cannot afford simply to make reassurances to parents. They must be able to demonstrate whether or not the single vaccine option is viable," she said.

She said the working group should consider:

  • If MMR has not caused the steep rise in autism, what has?

  • Why was autism rising while vaccine rates stayed constant?
  • Would a choice of single vaccines increase or decrease the uptake of MMR vaccines, and what effect would this have?
  • Was there any benefit to deferring giving the MMR vaccine to children until their immune systems were better developed?
  • Have any studies been done in France in relation to a rise in autism among children who received measles-only vaccine at the age of about 12 months, followed later by the MMR vaccine?

The committee said more research was needed into the cause of autism.

And the report pointed to a lack of co-ordinated information and statistics on the rising number of cases, and the need for a consistent test for autism at an early age.

Scotland's chief medical officer, Dr Mac Armstrong, welcomed the conclusion that there was no proven scientific link between the MMR vaccine and autism or Crohn's disease on the basis of currently available evidence.

He said: "My advice today, as it has been consistently, is for parents to stick with the MMR.

"It is safe. It is working. And it is saving lives.

What we do know is that no link can be found between the increased incidence of autism and the MMR vaccine

Dr Mac Armstrong, chief medical officer
"I fully understand, however, concerns about the fact that more children are being recognised as suffering from autism."

He said not enough was known about the causes of the condition.

"What we do know is that no link can be found between the increased incidence of autism and the MMR vaccine," he added.

The man whose petition sparked the health committee's investigation remains adamant that parents should have a choice between the triple vaccine and single jabs.

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon: Confidence building needed
Brian Welsh, of Action Against Autism, believes his grandson developed the condition after being given the MMR jab.

Jane Hook, of the Scottish Society for Autism, said: "Probably the first reaction from parents who have been waiting for a single vaccine will be disappointment.

"But the report, instead of closing doors, is for the first time, opening doors and lots of searching questions is going to be asked, and some of the report is very good indeed."

The Scottish National Party's health spokeswoman, Nicola Sturgeon, said: "The end of the process should be a vaccination and immunisation programme that has the overwhelming confidence of people in Scotland.

"We're not there yet, this is the first step in that process."

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See also:

27 Mar 01 | Scotland
Row erupts over vaccine report
13 Feb 01 | Scotland
Parents' fears over MMR remain
09 Feb 01 | Health
MMR 'cleared' of autism link
08 Feb 01 | Scotland
Sheridan MMR reform defeat
08 Feb 01 | Scotland
Scots medics back MMR jab
03 Apr 00 | Health
Vaccine 'does not cause autism'
30 May 00 | Health
Measles outbreak feared
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