Concern at drop in MMR uptake
HEALTH bosses in Suffolk are urging parents to protect their children by giving them the MMR jab as new figures show a drop in the number of youngsters protected against measles, mumps and rubella.
The latest figures published by NHS East of England, the region’s strategic health authority, for the third quarter of 2009 reveal only 87.5% of children are being immunised at two and only 82% are taking up the second dose at five years old.
Although reflecting the average across England, a senior health professional in Suffolk has said the levels are not good enough to prevent an epidemic.
Dr Brian Keeble, immunisations co-ordinator at NHS Suffolk, said to prevent an outbreak 95% of the population must be immunised against the diseases.
He said measles was a “very unpleasant” disease, mumps can cause infertility in young men and rubella and German measles can cause “major deformities” in unborn babies.
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The dip in the number of youngsters receiving the vaccine in Suffolk comes as the General Medical Council (GMC) announced this week the doctor at the centre of the controversy over the MMR jab would be struck off.
Andrew Wakefield was found guilty of serious professional misconduct at a hearing in London.
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The GMC panel ruled Dr Wakefield, acted in a “dishonest,” “misleading” and “irresponsible” way while carrying out research into a possible link between the MMR jab and bowel disease and autism.
Furthermore, the 53-year-old, who is expected to appeal, “abused his position of trust” and “brought the medical profession into disrepute” in studies he carried out on children.
Dr Keeble urged parents to vaccinate their children. “The figures show a very slight drop back from 88% to 87.5% for two-year-olds,” he said. “But if you look back over the last 18 months we have seen the figures up from 81.9% in the first quarter, April to June 2008-09.
“We are still well above where we were. From January to March, fortunately we have seen figures creeping back up. For five-year-olds being given the second dose, we have seen uptake leap up from 82% to 84%.”
But he warned the current level of uptake was not high enough to prevent an epidemic.
“We would like to see a 95% uptake for both doses so we have got quite a lot of work to do to persuade parents.”
Highlighting the importance of ensuring children are given both doses, Dr Keeble said some children were not completely protected the first time around.
Around 10% of those who receive the first dose at two years old are not protected from contracting measles, mumps and rubella.
After the second dose, 90% of that 10% are protected, giving an overall protection of around 99%.
According to his calculations, Dr Keeble said that leaves around 1,500 children in Suffolk each year unprotected.
“As that happens you get a build up of people who are not vaccinated and an outbreak is likely.
“Measles is probably the most contagious disease there is – forget swine flu – it is highly contagious and can spread through primary schools very quickly.”
Speaking about the GMC’s decision ruling Dr Wakefield should be struck off, Dr Keeble said: “It is quite sad in a way that so many thousands of people have not been protected because of the work he did.”
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