Parents refusing to give babies MMR

The Government continues to lose the fight to convince parents that MMR is safe, with figures showing a further drop in the number of children receiving the jab.

The proportion of those receiving the vaccine in England fell to 80 per cent, with an uptake rate of just 62 per cent in some areas of London.

Both figures are well below the 95 per cent herd immunity rate considered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to give protection from mumps, measles and rubella to the population as a whole.

It is also well below the peak of 92 per cent in 1995-96. The rate went into decline after The Lancet published research later discredited by Dr Andrew Wakefield in 1998 linking the MMR jab to autism.

The research led parents to leave their children unimmunised. As a result, last year there were 442 confirmed cases of measles, a disease that had almost disappeared. This is eight times the number of cases recorded in 1998, and is a result of parents fears of the triple vaccine.

The drop in the take-up of the vaccine runs contrary to a government publicity campaign to convince parents of the jabs safety, an apology by the Editor of The Lancet and a large study that concluded that there was no evidence to support a link between the combined vaccine and autism in children.

Information on the use of single vaccines is not collected, meaning more parents may have paid out for their children to be protected this way.

London had one of the lowest uptakes of MMR at 70 per cent, falling to 62 per cent in southeast London and 69 per cent in northwest London.

Lambeth and Lewisham boroughs in South London had the lowest take-up in the country. In both, just 58 per cent of children had received the MMR jab by their second birthday.

Melanie Johnson, the Public Health Minister, said MMR remained the best form of protection against measles, mumps and rubella: “Data from the Health Protection Agency shows that MMR uptake has increased in three of the four last quarters, which is encouraging.

"The vaccine is recognised by the WHO as having an outstanding safety record."

Other immunisation figures showed that uptake of the meningitis C vaccine increased from 92 per cent to 93 per cent last year. They also showed that 94 per cent of children had been immunised against diphtheria, tetanus and polio, and 93 per cent were immunised against whooping cough and Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type B) both similar percentages to previous years.

The percentage of over-65s getting the flu jab increased to 71 per cent, up from 69 per cent in 2002-03.

Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said last night: "It is now a matter of some urgency for public confidence to be restored. That is not only about giving maximum attention to the studies which highlight the safety of the MMR vaccination, but Nice (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) should have a responsibility to investigate the clinical effectiveness and appropriateness of the use of single vaccines."

Joanne McCartney, who chairs the London Assembly Health and Public Services Committee, said: "The London Assembly warned more than 18 months ago that urgent action was required."

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