Page last updated at 16:05 GMT, Tuesday, 2 June 2009 17:05 UK

MMR school entry check considered

Edwina Hart AM
Edwina Hart said the advice remained to immunise children with the MMR

The Welsh health minister is considering options around checking the vaccine records of children as an entry requirement for school and nursery.

Edwina Hart said she was prepared to "explore further the options" for a compulsory childhood vaccination policy for Wales.

Ms Hart added that they would need to weigh higher vaccination levels against "the controversy likely to ensue".

A measles outbreak across the country has seen 253 cases of the disease.

Children in the UK are offered vaccination against measles as part of the MMR vaccine, which is given to them between 12 and 15 months of age (with a booster dose before they start school).

There had been concern about possible risks from vaccination, especially with the combined MMR vaccine, after some researchers suggested links with either autism or Crohn's disease.

The research was subsequently discredited.

Ms Hart's announcement in the Welsh assembly came just a day after Torfaen Labour AM Lynne Neagle called for a debate in the assembly on a form of compulsory vaccination against measles.

Ms Neagle welcomed the announcement but said she remained concerned that some AMs raised the issue that the human rights of the child could somehow be contravened by compulsory immunisation.

"I simply say again that I am concerned about the rights of all children, such as those whose lives are put at risk by those parents who ignore clear scientific fact and medical advice by refusing to immunise their children," she said.

New leaflets outlining the risks from measles will be distributed to all parts of Wales and all secondary schools will receive a copy of an immunisation DVD during the next two weeks.

Conservative health spokesman Andrew Davies said: "If parents are given access to all the facts about MMR then hopefully they will make the informed choice to get their children vaccinated."

We would need to consider the legal issues and look at the potential benefit of delivering a higher coverage level against the controversy that is likely to ensue
Edwina Hart AM, health minister

Latest figures show the uptake of the MMR triple vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, have risen slightly to 89.6% and 83.4%.

However, they are still a long way off the 95% level needed to provide "herd immunisation" and prevent the disease taking hold in the community among unvaccinated people.

Ms Hart said some states in the US had a requirement for children to be vaccinated before they started school. The country has a 99% uptake of MMR among school entry children.

But she added: "This has not been necessary where high coverage has been achieved through other approaches and efforts, such as in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands."

"In considering a compulsory vaccination policy for Wales, we would need to consider the legal issues and look at the potential benefit of delivering a higher coverage level against the controversy that is likely to ensue.

"The implementation and enforcement of such a policy for MMR immunisation may harm the confidence of parents on perhaps ethical, political, and religious grounds.

Measles rash on woman's back
Measles is associated with a blotchy rash which spreads down from the face

"In addition, preventing unimmunised children from starting school would be seen as infringing their universal right to an education.

"However, I do think that we should explore further the options for making completed vaccinations or checking and recording vaccination status an entry requirement for nurseries and schools."

A total of 32 people with measles have been sent to hospital during the recent outbreak - Wales' largest outbreak of the disease since the triple MMR vaccine was introduced more than 20 years ago.

Ms Hart reiterated the advice from the National Public Health Service of Wales that the best and safest way to protect children from measles was to use the triple vaccine, not single vaccines.

She added: There have been many studies worldwide supporting the safety of the MMR vaccination. The best way of protecting the health of our children and the wider community is through the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

"Conversely, there is no proven medical and scientific benefit in giving single vaccines - but there is the risk of harm."

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