Measles outbreak warning after jab snub

MORE than 5,000 children across Suffolk and Essex did not receive the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccination last year, shock new figures reveal.

By Danielle Nuttall

MORE than 5,000 children across Suffolk and Essex did not receive the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccination last year, shock new figures reveal.

Health experts warn the possibility of a measles epidemic is becoming greater every day as thousands of parents choose not to protect their children with the single MMR jab.

Figures reveal that between April 1 2003 and March 31 2004, 1,142 children in Suffolk who reached their second birthday were not immunised with the MMR vaccination.

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Doctors said the take up level in the county during this period stood at just 83.5% - significantly below the target of 95%.

And recent figures for the first three months of this year show levels in the county have fallen even further to 82.3%.

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In Essex, out of 17,395 children aged two and who were eligible for immunisation, just 13,453 received the MMR jab, which means almost 4,000 youngsters might not have been protected.

Health officials in Essex say take up levels are gradually increasing year on year, and were up from 76.2% between April 1 and June 30 last year to 79.9% between January to March 2004, but add they are still way below target.

Last night Dr Hamid Mahgoub, district immunisation co-ordinator with the Suffolk Health Protection Unit, said unless more parents protected their children, outbreaks of measles would be the inevitable result.

“It's very low, the coverage is supposed to be in the 90s. By this you can see there are more and more children becoming susceptible to the measles, mumps and rubella,” he said.

“We are having more children becoming unvaccinated and this will eventually result in outbreaks of disease.

“This is increasing all the time. If somebody gets the virus from abroad it will spread like anything.

“We did not get outbreaks before because almost all children were vaccinated but now the situation is different. The number of unvaccinated children is increasing so there is a chance of having outbreaks now.”

From April 2002 to March 2003, coverage of the MMR vaccine in Suffolk stood at 84.9%, but this has gradually fallen as fears grew that the combined jab was linked to autism.

Dr David Irwin, consultant in communicable disease control at Essex Health Protection Agency, said: “Basically the target rate was set by the Government as a level at, which if achieved, we would not see measles, mumps or rubella occurring in children.

“If up take is low and nowhere near the 95% level, I am concerned because basically it means there is a large body of children who are susceptible to measles, mumps or rubella. If the viruses get re-introduced to the community, we could quite easily have an outbreak of any one of the conditions.

“The link with autism does not exist. My own children have all had the MMR at the appropriate time. I am convinced there is no link. People have not seen measles for a long time and they forget it's quite a nasty infection.”

Dr Mike Debenham, who runs a private practice in Hintlesham, has been inundated with bookings since he began offering the single vaccine alternative to the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

Hundreds of parents book their child into his practice every year, because they feel anxious about having the combined MMR jab and opt instead for the singular.

“It really reflects the on-going anxiety about the safety of the MMR vaccine. Parents are actually engaging brains I think much more robustly about their child's welfare,” he said.

“The obvious solution is to make single vaccines freely available on the NHS. It would not be difficult. “The vaccines would be more effective and there would be fewer failures particularly on the measles component.”

Measles is difficult to contain and can spread even before the sufferer has a rash.

An uninfected person can contract the viral disease, which can cause fatal lung and brain complications, just by breathing in the air in a room where an infected person has been up to two hours before.

Experts claim that in every 3,000 cases of the disease, there is at least one death.

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