MMR scepticism unhelpful during measles outbreak


The measles outbreak in Swansea has rightly received much media attention and has highlighted the risk of measles outbreaks in other parts of the UK.   Thankfully, the advice from Public Health England is there is no imminent risk of an outbreak in London.  In 2012, there were 137 confirmed cases of measles in London and these were predominantly contained to family groups by the work of the Health Protection Agency (now part of Public Health England) who investigate every case and vaccinate the people around the patient to stop it spreading further.  There are pockets of populations where vaccination rates are particularly low, and where small outbreaks can and do occur, Public Health England will continue to do the work that they have been doing for years – monitoring all cases, investigating and vaccinating to contain any outbreaks.

The announcement by The Department of Health (DOH) to run a national catch-up campaign is most welcome.  It plans to run over the course of the summer identifying those, particularly teenagers that are not vaccinated and encourage them to be vaccinated.

What hinders programmes like these are commentaries which still exist online and which serve to stoke the fire of debate surrounding the doubt about the safety of the vaccine, particularly, when precursored with the title “The Truth”.  In a classic Melanie Phillips article on the subject, dating back to 2003, but still on-line on the Daily Mail web site, she highlights a 2nd Wakefield study which focuses on the booster MMR jabs, the claim being that those given the booster jabs experienced deterioration in health.  Articles like this, which are likely to be repeated in the current climate, are dangerous, because inevitably, they’re designed to shock and sensationalise and by their nature do not mention all the facts.  For example, the 2003 article doesn’t mention that the Wakefield study focused on tests carried out on just 12 children.  Nor does it mention the size of the “new” study referred to.

My hope during this next phase of debate about the MMR is that the language of speculation and suggestion is curtailed.  What we need to know now are the facts, which are in approx 1 in every 15 cases, Measles can be severe and causes more complex problems needing hospitalisation, and can cause death.  In a very small number it can cause brain inflammation and lead to lasting brain damage. Worldwide it is one of the biggest killers of children.  We should not lose sight of this reality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *