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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 11:42 GMT
MMR mistrust fuels measles risk
The MMR jab
There are fears parents may turn away from the vaccine
A south Wales academic is warning that a crisis of trust over the MMR vaccine is threatening to cause a measles epidemic.

Tom Horlick-Jones, a Cardiff University expert in risk and health, argues that parents are refusing to accept the assurances of politicians and medical experts that the controversial triple jab is safe.

The current crisis of trust threatens to undermine government effort to protect the public and improve the health of the nation

Tom Horlick-Jones Cardiff University

In a joint study with Kent University, he said a climate of mistrust is hampering efforts to restore faith in the vaccine.

And as vaccination rates against measles continue to fall, it is creating the conditions for an epidemic in which children could be seriously harmed or killed.

The fear centres on the MMR vaccine being linked with the symptoms of autism after Dr Andrew Wakefield, then at the Royal Free Hospital in London, said cases of a bowel condition associated with autism were discovered in children soon after they were given the injection.

But government officials have insisted there is no danger and that parents should still immunise their children with the MMR jab.

The study claims that people's suspicion of politicians and official safety assurances over MMR - combined with "distorted" fears raised by media coverage - is increasing the risk of a measles outbreak.

Dr Andrew Wakefield
Dr Andrew Wakefield's research led to concerns about the MMR vaccine

Families end up being more concerned about the alleged, but still unproven, failings of the MMR vaccine rather than the greater - and real risk - of a child being damaged by a measles outbreak.

The review was jointly funded by two government research funding agencies, the Economic and Social Research Council and the Medical Research Council.

Mr Horlick-Jones - a Senior Research Fellow at Cardiff University's School of Social Sciences - said restoring trust in official agencies is likely to be "a very difficult process indeed".

"Individuals take risks because it makes sense to do so within the context of their everyday lives," he said.

"Information about risks needs to be made relevant to them, and that means it must be sensitive to how people make sense of these things, and to their concerns and worries".
The MMR vaccine
Parents have fears about the measles triple jab

"The roots of the crisis appear to lie in the style of contemporary governments, the role of the mass media, and the sometimes complex ways in which individuals perceive and respond to risks.

"The UK Government is highly centralised and sought to restrict information about possible health risks during the BSE crisis, and that experience has done a great deal of damage.

"Whilst the current government is committed, post-BSE, to more openness, parents' response to the MMR campaign suggest they are not convinced that any real change has taken place."

Mr Horlick-Jones added that media activity reinforces fears of "comparatively rare dangers such being killed in a plane crash or having one's child damaged by a vaccine.." while more common dangers such as car accidents are give less attention.

See also:

06 Feb 02 | Wales
Measles outbreak warning
03 Feb 02 | Health
New research fuels MMR debate
15 Feb 02 | Health
MMR super jab planned
02 Dec 01 | Wales
Support for MMR research doctor
04 Jan 01 | Health
Q&A: MMR and the single vaccine
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