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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK
Experts back all-in-one MMR jabs
Child being vaccinated
Some parents will not be convinced by the report
The combined MMR vaccine is safer than the single dose option and there is no proven link with autism in children, according to a report from a panel of experts in Scotland.

But the group, established by the Scottish Executive, is calling for more research into the causes of autism and inflammatory bowel disease.

The MMR Expert Group endorses the view stated last year by the Scottish Parliament's health and community care committee and the Medical Research Council.

Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm accepted all of the 11 key recommendations and said the executive would be "sticking with the tried and tested MMR immunisation programme".

"The balance of medical and scientific opinion remains with MMR and I will not take a decision to reverse one of the great public health success storise of the century," he declared.

Rev. Graham Forbes
Rev. Graham Forbes: "Issue clouded"

The panel's chairman, the Reverend Graham Forbes, said: "I appreciate that for some, our views... will not be the end of the matter. I do not believe that is what our group was set up for.

"However, we as a group are convinced that the controversy over MMR has clouded an even more important issue - the increasing number of families striving to cope with the challenge of supporting and bringing up an autistic child."

The condition, known medically as autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), affects about 30,000 people in Scotland.

Rev. Forbes, Provost of St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, added: "We have urged the Scottish Executive to improve the range and quality of services provided to, and for, children with autism and their families."

Take-up drop

The report was commissioned eight months ago by the Scottish Executive in an attempt to allay fears about the MMR injection.

Take-up of MMR has declined since suggestions were made of a link between it and autism or bowel disorders.

According to the latest figures, 86% of two-year-olds have received the triple MMR injection, as opposed to 97% of children who have received the tetanus inoculation.

The controversy surrounding this issue, fuelled by some unhelpful media coverage, continues to cause distress and uncertainty for parents

Dr John Garner
Chairman, BMA Scotland

With evidence of a downturn in MMR vaccinations, ministers have expressed concerns about the resurgence of cases of measles, mumps and rubella.

There have been outbreaks of measles in London, Wales and Fife in recent months.

One of the group's 19 members, epidemiologist Dr Claire Bramley, said: "Single vaccines would leave children unprotected against measles, mumps and rubella becuse children would remain susceptible for long while awaiting further doses."

'Alternative arrangements

In an apparent concession to concerns among some members of the group who are parents, the report does say that the joint council on vaccination and immunisation should consider alternative arrangements for some families.

Jane Hook, of the Scottish Society for Autism, who is also a member of the expert group, acknowledged that no firm link had yet been established between MMR and autism.

Jane Hook
Jane Hook: "Parental concerns"

But she said her organisation's position had still not changed and that she believed parents should be given single vaccines on the NHS if they wished.

"We believe that parents should be given that choice. We've got a lot of members who believe their child's autism has been caused by MMR.

"Even though the report clearly states there is no evidence at this time, parental concerns have to be taken on board."

Robert McKay, national co-ordinator for National Autistic Society Scotland, welcomed the report's call for more research.

Alternative policies

"We have to think very carefully over the concerns reported to us by parents of children with autism who are saying that MMR is a trigger.

"As a non-medical group, we can only accept expert opinion. But we welcome further research into possible links between the triple vaccine and autism," he added.

Doctors in Scotland welcomed the panel's report, in particular the group's scrutiny and dismissal of five alternative immunisation policies:

  • No immunisation - "untenable"
  • Compulsory immunisation - "no evidence it would lead to higher take-up"
  • Deferral of MMR - "not supported by current scientific evidence"
  • MMR or single vaccines - "cannot be sustained on the basis of available scientific evidence"
  • Single vaccines instead of MMR - "single vaccines not made to UK licence standards"

Dr John Garner, chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, said: "The controversy surrounding this issue, fuelled by some unhelpful media coverage, continues to cause distress and uncertainty for parents."

Scotland's chief medical officer Dr Mac Armstrong said the report confirmed that the combined jab was "the best and safest way to protect a child from the triple threat of mumps, masles and rubella".

He pointed out that if a single vaccine was chosen, a child would "face the trauma of six injections instead of two".

'Outside remit'

The report's release follows months of controversy over the group's remit and some of the panel members' links.

On Sunday, the Scottish Executive denied a report that it had prevented the team from considering single injections.

It said the issue of single injections was never in the group's remit.

In February, it emerged that several members of the research group had shares in a company which makes the vaccine.

BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor
"Single measles jab no safer"
See also:

30 Apr 02 | Scotland
Experts back all-in-one MMR jabs
28 Apr 02 | Scotland
MMR report gagging denied
20 Apr 02 | Scotland
Autism awareness march through city
12 Mar 02 | Scotland
Scottish measles cases confirmed
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