Health experts say new jab is safe

By Rebecca SheppardHEALTH experts in East Anglia have reassured parents that the new five-in-one vaccine for babies is safe.They also urged parents to ensure their children are vaccinated against infectious diseases in the wake of the Government's shake-up of the immunisation programme.

By Rebecca Sheppard

HEALTH experts in East Anglia have reassured parents that the new five-in-one vaccine for babies is safe.

They also urged parents to ensure their children are vaccinated against infectious diseases in the wake of the Government's shake-up of the immunisation programme.

Their reassurance came amid fears the single jab for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, Hib and polio would spark a controversy similar to that surrounding the single vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

Dr Torbjorn Sundkvist, consultant in communicable disease control at the Suffolk Health Protection Unit, said the new vaccine was safe and babies already five immunisations in one sitting - a four-in-one jab and a drink of the polio vaccine.

Dr David Irwin, his counterpart at the Essex Health Protection Agency, said the new combined jab would be "as safe" as the present programme.

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The Department of Health announced yesterday that from September the new vaccine would be distributed to surgeries to give to babies more than two months old. There will also be new vaccines for pre-school and teenage immunisation boosters.

It said the mercury-based preservative Thiomersalwould no longer be used in the whooping cough vaccine.

The live oral polio vaccine, which carries a very small risk of causing paralytic polio, will also be replaced with an inactivated vaccine.

Dr Sundkvist said the take up of the vaccines in the last quarter across Suffolk was between 92% and 96% and he added there had been no concerns raised about the four-in-one jab.

"In a way this is a safer vaccine. There is no Thiomersal, no mercury, and we have this new vaccine introduced in other countries. As for polio, it is not the live form, so it is very much safer.

"It gets rid of the mercury. There is not a link with autism, but we should not use it in general terms for environmental factors."

Mr Sundkvist refuted attempts to draw connections between the five-in-one jab, a form of which has been used in Canada, and the three-in-one MMR vaccine.

He added: "It is absolutely important that parents get their children vaccinated. This change to the new vaccine is more convenient and safer and very practical.

"When they have the vaccine at the moment, it is four-in-one and one vaccine is a drink.

"They had all these things at the same time, so there is no increase in the amount of exposure. It will be at the same time, but the five will be injected, so it stops the oral part."

Dr Irwin said the take up of the vaccines in Essex was between 90% and 95% and added it was important for parents to ensure their children were vaccinated against the diseases, which can have devastating effects.

"I wouldn't say it is any more safe, I would say it is as safe. There is no safety issue with the mercury component," said Dr Irwin.

"It has been used in the UK vaccines since 40 years ago with no untoward effects. I do not see why people should be concerned."

He added: "Parents should look at the science of it and people are giving the message that vaccination and immunisation is the safest way to protect children."

However, campaigners have called for assurances from the Government over the safety of any new combined vaccination amid concerns of links with autism, which also surrounded the combined MMR vaccine.

More than 5,000 children across Essex and Suffolk did not receive the single MMR vaccination last year.

Dr Michael Debenham, who offers the MMR vaccine as separate jabs from his private practice in Hintlesham, said there were far too many vaccines given to children too early.

He claimed the new five-in-one vaccine had "not been trialled particularly well" and parents would be concerned.

"We do not have a good enough safety profile to take it on. Equally, with the mercury issue we should ask ourselves what the real reason is for the Government to withdraw the mercury," said Dr Debenham.

Dr Gareth Richards, president of the Suffolk division of the British Medical Association, said anything that reduced the potential for children to default on a vaccination schedule should be applauded.

"With a single jab that contains all the vaccines, then it is less likely for children to miss a vaccine," he added.

rebecca.sheppard@eadt.co.uk