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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
MMR uptake still falling
MMR vaccine
The executive is hoping take-up will improve

Uptake of the all-in-one measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) in Scotland has fallen to its lowest level in eight years.

The latest NHS Scotland statistics for MMR uptake show that in the period April to June 2003, 85.8% of 15-month to two-year-olds were brought forward for immunisation by their parents.

That compares with 94.8% of toddlers in March 1995, which was the highest level recorded under the current method of collecting data.

Fears have been expressed by some parents that the combined vaccination could be responsible for a rise in child autism but government experts have consistently denied this.

The weight of scientific evidence and modern authoritative medical opinion is that the MMR vaccine is the best way to protect children
Scottish Executive spokeswoman
They have instead warned of a resurgence in measles, mumps and rubella, should parents not seek these immunisations in combined or individual form.

According to medical experts, 95% of people should be vaccinated to achieve what they call "herd-immunity".

Public health consultant Dr Syed Ahmed said: "If this situation persists over the next two or three years, clearly the time will come when we can expect to see a major outbreak."

The latest figure represented a fall of 0.3% on the previous quarter and was the lowest level since the mid-1990s.

Information drive

During the latter half of the 90s, take-up levels of the vaccine ranged between 90% and 95%.

But in the winter of 2001, the take-up dropped to just over 90% and since then has fluctuated around the mid to high 80s.

The MMR vaccination figures are in sharp contrast to take-up rates for other childhood immunisations.

The figures show take-up for meningitis C vaccination is 94.6%, and for diphtheria, tetanus and polio take-up rates are above 95%.

But the Scottish Executive believes that more information for parents will help restore their confidence in the MMR programme.

Child being vaccinated
Parents have been concern over the combined jab
A spokeswoman pointed to the "positive uptake" of childhood immunisation across the board.

She said the 0.3% fall in MMR uptake was less steep that in the previous quarter.

"Still almost nine out of 10 parents consent to MMR immunisation," she said.

"We would hope to see this situation improve gradually over time.

"The weight of scientific evidence and modern authoritative medical opinion is that the MMR vaccine is the best way to protect children against these three diseases."

But Tories repeated their call for parents to be offered the choice of having children immunised by single vaccines, instead of the MMR jag.

"We have been warned before that a measles epidemic is possible if rates remain low," said Tory health spokesman David Davidson.

"That is why action is needed, and needed now."

BBC Scotland's Forbes McFall
"Health officials are hopeful the uptake rate will improve"

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