Why I Support MMR Vaccination
As a mother myself, I fully understand the concern people feel regarding the reports over the safety of the MMR triple vaccine. Media coverage has undoubtedly left many parents anxious that they are doing the best for their children.
I support the Government’s view that MMR is the safest option for children because it is based on the best available scientific evidence.
World wide, over 500 million doses of MMR vaccine have been used. Any side effect that is not detected after so many doses is either infinitesimally rare or non-existent. Of course, it will never be possible to prove that there are no risks associated with the triple vaccine (you can’t prove a negative) but the evidence that we have shows that the risks from taking the vaccines singly and the risks from the diseases themselves are far greater.
I feel very strongly about this as, when I was two years old, I nearly died from pneumonia which developed as a result of a measles infection. These days we tend to forget the dangers of the diseases that MMR protects us from. According to Sense, the National Deafblind and Rubella Association, the numbers of children affected by congenital rubella (associated with blindness, deafness and brain damage) dropped dramatically after the introduction of MMR.
Evidence on a link between the triple vaccine and autism
Although the risks of delaying vaccination against the three diseases that MMR protects can be quantified, any link between the MMR vaccine and autism remains unproven. Even the authors of the original 1998 Lancet article that began the controversy said that their study "did not prove an association between MMR and the syndrome described". Even though autism is diagnosed more frequently than it used to be, no country has recorded a rise that coincided with the introduction of the combined vaccine, which in this country was in 1998. A recent Japanese study found that cases of autism continued to rise even after the triple vaccine was withdrawn.
Although many people site a rise in the prevalence of autism over recent years, this is most likely due to better diagnosis. Many schools monitor children’s development closely and there has been a push towards early diagnosis of autism. Lorna Wing, a researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, worked with special-needs children in the 1970’s in Camberwell, London and estimated that less than 10 per cent were correctly diagnoses as having autism. To test whether there has been an actual rise in the number of people with autism, studies have been carried out with a specific age group over a set time period and then repeated again a few years later. Studies, such as the one carried out in Staffordshire by Fombonne and Sunto Chakrabarti of the Child Development Centre, have not found any evidence of an actual rise in autism.
The Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (both independent committees) have separately reviewed this issue and have both come to the conclusion that the MMR triple vaccine is the safest way to protect children. The World Health Organisation supports its use and says it has "an outstanding safety record".
The dangers of allowing single vaccines
There are a number of serious concerns about the use of the single vaccines as an alternative to MMR. The use of single vaccines leaves children vulnerable to dangerous diseases for longer. After the first injection the child still has no immunity to the other two diseases against which they are unvaccinated.
Experience in immunisation programmes shows that there is progressive "drop-out" rate with extended immunisation courses. This means that children having single vaccines are more likely to be at risk from disease. There is an argument that parents should be allowed to choose for their children, but parents should be allowed reasonable choice when it only affects their child. Not only are the unvaccinated children at risk, but also those that they come into contact with. This means those who are too young to be vaccinated, and those who cannot be vaccinated because their immune system is not strong enough. Therefore, parents are not just making a choice about their own child’s wellbeing but a choice that affects other people and their children.
It would be quite wrong for the NHS to offer parents a second best alternative that experience tells us is likely to further reduce levels of immunity to the diseases of measles, mumps and rubella.
A controversy similar to MMR occurred in the 1970’s over the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. Following media pressure over the safety of the vaccine, separate vaccines were made available instead of combined DTP (diptheria, tetanus, pertussis).
The consequences were a fall in coverage from 80% to 30%, three major epidemics of whooping cough, thousands of hospital admissions and as many as 100 deaths. The original research on which the scare was based was shown to be wrong, and it took more than 15 years to regain the lost ground.
It is because I do not want to see another situation like this that I support MMR vaccination.
If you are a constituent and have any comments or questions on MMR please do not hesitate to contact me (click here for contact details). For further information about MMR please visit the Department of Health’s web site at www.doh.gov.uk