MMR: End the vaccine ignorance

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An urgent campaign to raise the take-up of childhood vaccinations is launched by the Mail today.

We are urging ministers to start a massive publicity drive to reassure parents that vaccines, particularly MMR, are safe and vital.

Measles cases have soared, with the disease striking 991 children last year – treble the 2017 total.

Official figures analysed by the Mail reveal that across Europe only France has more children without protection against the disease.

Jilly Moss's baby daughter Alba who had measles earlier this year. Measles cases have soared, with the disease striking 991 children last year – treble the 2017 total. Official figures analysed by the Mail reveal that across Europe only France has more children without protection against the disease

Jilly Moss's baby daughter Alba who had measles earlier this year. Measles cases have soared, with the disease striking 991 children last year – treble the 2017 total. Official figures analysed by the Mail reveal that across Europe only France has more children without protection against the disease

Nearly 62,000 UK babies missed their measles, mumps and rubella jab last year. And more than half a million children have not had the vaccination since 2010 (Alba Moss, pictured)

Nearly 62,000 UK babies missed their measles, mumps and rubella jab last year. And more than half a million children have not had the vaccination since 2010 (Alba Moss, pictured)

Nearly 62,000 UK babies missed their measles, mumps and rubella jab last year. And more than half a million children have not had the vaccination since 2010. Health experts fear parents are being turned against inoculation by fake science put on social media by the ‘anti-vaxx’ lobby.

Busy modern lifestyles and public complacency have also been cited for the crisis, with many adults forgetting that measles is a killer.

Two weeks ago a Government report revealed uptake had fallen for all ten childhood jabs, including measles, polio, meningitis and whooping cough.

Debbie Roscoe, 57, and her daughter Ellie, 24. Ellie almost died from measles last year because Debbie chose for Ellie not to have the full MMR jabs as a child.

Debbie Roscoe, 57, and her daughter Ellie, 24. Ellie almost died from measles last year because Debbie chose for Ellie not to have the full MMR jabs as a child.

But health officials are particularly worried about MMR vaccination rates, which have slipped to their lowest level in five years. Two months ago the World Health Organisation declared that the UK was no longer ‘measles free’, with poor vaccination rates blamed for the virus’s return.

The Mail’s campaign is calling for the NHS to introduce an alert system – text messages or letters – to remind busy parents of immunisation appointments.

This newspaper urgently wants to see the fall in uptake reversed, to such an extent that we hit 95 per cent coverage across all ten jabs.

This vital 95 per cent figure is the World Health Organisation’s target because it ensures ‘herd immunity’ from a virus.

With so many of the population protected, the virus is unable to spread and subsequently dies out. The UK would regain its ‘measles free’ status if vaccination rates improved sharply.

Dr Mary Ramsay of Public Health England, the Government agency which oversees vaccinations, said: ‘These diseases kill. Every child getting the right vaccine at the right time – that’s what we need to achieve. We’re delighted to have the Mail on board, getting the message to parents and supporting the changes we’re making.’

Liam Sollis of the charity Unicef UK said: ‘A serious measles outbreak is a ticking time-bomb. It’s great to see the Mail’s campaign to promote vaccination.’

Measles cases have soared, with the disease striking 991 children last year – treble the 2017 total. Official figures analysed by the Mail reveal that across Europe only France has more children without protection against the disease

Measles cases have soared, with the disease striking 991 children last year – treble the 2017 total. Official figures analysed by the Mail reveal that across Europe only France has more children without protection against the disease

What every parent MUST know 

WHAT IS THE MMR VACCINE? 

The MMR jab is a combined vaccination that protects against measles, mumps and rubella, all extremely serious diseases. Before the introduction of measles vaccines in the 1960s there were, on average, 85 deaths from the disease each year in England and Wales. MMR was introduced in 1988 and has proved so effective that between 1999 and 2019 there were only four deaths.

Mumps can cause deafness, brain swelling and meningitis. Rubella generally presents as a mild rash in children, but if it’s caught early in pregnancy, a woman has a 90 per cent chance of passing the virus on to her foetus which can cause severe birth defects or death.

The MMR jab is given as part of a NHS childhood vaccination schedule that starts from the age of eight weeks and goes up to 14 years. The age at which children have each vaccination varies, but as well as MMR, the schedule includes rotavirus (a common cause of diarrhoea and sickness), whooping cough, meningitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, polio and HPV (human papillomavirus, linked to cervical cancer).

MMR is given in two stages, first at one year old and then a booster jab at three years and four months. The vaccine contains weakened versions of measles, mumps and rubella viruses, along with water and preservatives for better storage and to hold the components together. Two brands of MMR are available on the NHS – Priorix and MMRVaxPro (which contains porcine gelatine).

‘Once you’ve been vaccinated, your immune system develops memory antibody cells,’ explains Dr Nicky Longley, a consultant in travel medicine and infectious diseases at University College London. ‘Next time it comes into contact with the infection, those memory cells are ready to divide and produce an army of immune cells fighting the infection and preventing it from invading your body and making you ill.’

HOW EFFECTIVE IS MMR?

A single dose protects 93 per cent of people against measles, 78 per cent against mumps and 97 per cent against rubella. The recommended two doses of the vaccine increase the rate of protection to 97 per cent for measles and rubella, and 88 per cent for mumps. You may still catch one of these diseases after being vaccinated but it’s very unlikely and, if you do, it will be a much milder version.

Protection against measles and rubella lasts for many decades; protection from mumps gradually declines (lasting on average 27 years) so many adults may not be immune.

WHY DO EXPERTS SAY IT’S SAFE?

Anti-vaxxers claim the triple vaccine is too much of an assault on a young child’s immune system. But, according to Dr Doug Brown, chief executive of the British Society for Immunology, it works because if the vaccines were spread out, children would be vulnerable for longer.

‘A child’s immune system is designed to fight off lots of germs every day,’ he says. ‘The amount of challenge that it faces from the combined vaccine is very small in comparison and puts no extra strain on it.’ Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, says there is no evidence the triple vaccine is too much for a child’s body. ‘You cannot overload your immune system,’ he adds. ‘And the MMR involves just two visits (rather than six if each vaccine was given separately) – fewer needles for your children.’

WHY DOES IT MATTER IF MMR IMMUNISATION RATES DROP?

Infectious diseases are easily passed from person to person and entire communities can rapidly become infected. If a high enough proportion of a community is protected by immunisation, it stops the disease circulating because the number of people who can be infected is so small. This is called herd immunity. Herd immunity is important because it protects people who cannot be vaccinated - some of the most vulnerable people in society, including children who are too young to be vaccinated and people with a compromised immune systems. By vaccinating your child, you’re not only protecting them but also protecting the most vulnerable in your community.

The World Health Organisation advises that 95 per cent of children need to be receive the MMR jab in order to stop the diseases spreading. ‘This is particularly important for measles as it is so contagious,’ says Dr Brown. ‘In an unvaccinated community, each person with measles would on average pass the disease on to 12 others. That’s why ensuring a high vaccination rate is critical to stopping the spread of this disease.’

HOW MANY CHILDREN HAVE IT?

The uptake of MMR in the UK is well below the recommended level of 95 per cent to achieve herd immunity – with an uptake of 90.3 per cent in 2018/19. This is lower than in many other European countries. Recent NHS vaccine statistics for England showed that last year only 86.4 per cent of children receive two doses of MMR by the age of five.

In the past few years, measles and mumps rates have risen rapidly in the UK - and all over the world. The number of cases across Europe soared from about 5,000 in 2016 to 84,000 in 2018. The US is suffering its worst measles outbreak for 27 years. The WHO lists vaccine hesitancy – delaying or avoiding jabs - as one of its top ten global health threats.

WHY ARE SOME PARENTS SHUNNING THE VACCINE?

a major issue is not being able to get a GP appointment at a convenient time, says Dr Jonathan Kennedy, a global public health expert at Queen Mary University of London. ‘In a recent survey by the Royal Society of Public Health, the “timing, availability and location of appointments were identified as barriers to vaccination”,’ he says.

‘There’s also a problem with demand for vaccines as a result of concerns about safety,’ he adds. ‘In the same survey, one in five parents thought MMR was likely to cause unwanted side-effects and one in ten decided not to vaccinate their child with MMR, the majority due to concerns over safety.’ MMR can potentially cause redness, pain or swelling at the site of the injection, a fever (about one in 15 children) or a short-lived rash (around one in ten). Extremely uncommon side-effects include severe allergic reactions and seizures.

WHAT ABOUT MMR AND AUTISM?

Some parents believe the triple jab can cause autism. The root of this lies in a paper published in 1998 in the Lancet medical journal by Dr Andrew Wakefield. The British gastroenterologist had looked at 12 children with autism, identifying eight whose parents said their children’s behavioural symptoms had developed within two weeks following the MMR jab. The paper had a major impact but Wakefield was struck off in 2010 by the General Medical Council for acting dishonestly and irresponsibly in the way he conducted his research. His paper was retracted by the Lancet.

HOW DO WE KNOW THE MMR DOESN’T CAUSE AUTISM?

AT least ten major studies have shown there is no link between the MMR and autism. The most recent, published earlier this year, involved over 650,000 children and found not only no evidence of a connection, but that this was true even among children considered at heightened risk of autism.

SHOULD MMR BE MANDATORY?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says there is a ‘very strong argument’ for making vaccinations for children compulsory.

According to Dr Kennedy, the UK would not be the first country to consider this. ‘In 2017, the Italian government announced that unvaccinated children would not be allowed to attend school,’ he says. ‘The following year, France increased the number of mandatory vaccines from three to 11.

‘In the US, where parents can claim exemptions from compulsory vaccination for medical, philosophical or religious reasons, some states have moved to limit or eliminate non-medical exemptions.

‘Data suggests that mandatory vaccination legislation is effective,’ he adds, pointing to and France, where vaccine uptake has increased uptake.

But Dr Brown says compulsory vaccination is a blunt tool and there is no evidence that it would increase immunisation rates. ‘There are concerns that it could increase current health inequalities and alienate parents with questions on vaccination,’ he warns.

WHAT IF MY CHILD MISSED OUT ON THE MMR JAB?

It’s never too late to catch up. Older children and adults who missed out can get the jab free on the NHS.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, who chairs the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘It’s vital parents understand that choosing not to vaccinate their child isn’t just putting their own child at risk, but other children too.

‘There is a lot of dangerous anti-vaccination propaganda out there, particularly on social media, that can be incredibly confusing.

‘We hope the Mail’s campaign will help to cut through this confusion and allow people make positive, informed and educated choices.’

A health scare over MMR was triggered 20 years ago when a study by former NHS consultant Andrew Wakefield linked the jab to autism.

Like many news organisations, the Daily Mail gave coverage to his findings, which had been published in a highly respected medical journal, the Lancet. However, Wakefield’s research was later found to be ‘utterly false’ and he was struck off the medical register.

Measles is highly infectious and causes a temperature, cold-like symptoms, greyish spots and sore, red eyes. Usually it clears up after ten days but sometimes it leads to swelling of the brain, which can cause deafness or death.

Figures provided by Unicef and analysed by the Mail show that 61,788 one-year-olds missed the first MMR vaccine in the UK in 2018. This was the second highest number in Europe after France, where 72,703

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