East Anglia: More children having MMR jabs

THE East has seen the highest ever take-up of the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine since controversial safety fears set the immunisation programme back by a decade.

Health bosses are delighted more people than ever before are making sure their children are protected against the potentially fatal illnesses but have urged against complacency.

Experts have said the high results came after a battle for “hearts and minds” following now discredited claims that the vaccine could result in autism.

The immunisation is given in two doses with the first injection (MMR1) between 12 and 13 months and the second (MMR2) between the ages of three and five. In Suffolk, the highest ever percentage of children, 93.9% (up from 89.5% in 2011) received the first jab during April, May and June this year.

A total of 88.3% received MMR2 for the same period, another significant increase on the year before.

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Health bosses from NHS North Essex said the take-up of the vaccine in their area was the highest it has been since 2000, with 94.2% of children receiving MMR1 in the last quarter, compared to just 83.2% in 2008.

Hossein Khaled, NHS Suffolk senior screening and health protection manager, said the good results came after winning back people’s confidence in the vaccine and pro-actively pursuing those who had not been immunised.

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He said: “It has been a battle for hearts and minds. Concerns about safety have been disproved. The safety of the vaccine is paramount and there is a much greater risk to someone contracting one of these illnesses rather than anything untoward from the vaccine. The vaccine is completely safe.”

Mr Khaled added: “Measles, mumps and rubella are extremely nasty conditions and we have a very effective vaccine against them.

“It is really important that coverage is very good, but it’s such an important programme we want to continue to improve it. We are asking that when the invitation comes for the vaccination parents must make every effort possible that the child attends. It’s about ensuring that children are protected.”

Dr Shylaja Thomas, consultant in public health medicine at NHS North Essex, said community engagement had been key to the improved MMR uptake.

She said: “In north-east Essex the uptake of MMR vaccine has improved dramatically during the past three years. This has been achieved through various community engagement activities.

“We commissioned the domiciliary immunisation service provided by Anglian Community Enterprise (ACE) in 2010 and it is this new service that really helped boost the number of children receiving the MMR and improve uptake significantly.”

Sarah Bailey, portfolio lead for children’s services at ACE, said: “A member of our immunisation team will call the parents of children who have missed their first or second jab and advise an appointment with their own GP, at a Saturday clinic run by ACE or at their own home if more convenient.

“We also run immunisation sessions at the end of the school day in primary schools. Our strategy, where possible, is to take the immunisation service to the children.”

The ACE immunisation team can be contacted on 01206 518521.

n The medical journal The Lancet issued a full retraction of the paper which originally published the discredited research linking autism and MMR. The journal said it accepted claims made by the researchers were “false”.

Dr Andrew Wakefield, the lead researcher in the 1998 paper, was ruled to have broken research rules by the General Medical Council.

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