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Highest number of measles cases in 2008

HPA urge parents to get children vaccinated with MMR

OnMedica Staff

Friday, 06 February 2009

GPs and practice nurses are being urged to repeat the message on the importance of measles vaccinations as the latest figures show a 36% rise on last year’s cases.

The Health Protection Agency statistics show there were 1,348 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales from January to December 2008. Over the same period in 2007, there were just 990 cases.

This represents the highest number of cases since the start of monitoring in 1995.

London still tops the poll for measles cases at 662 with the North West coming second with 180. Most cases have been seen in children aged 3.5 to 11 years (432 cases).

A Lancet paper suggesting a link between bowel disease, autism and the MMR jab and its ensuing years of publicity had damaged public trust in the vaccine. This lead to many parents opting for single vaccinations or only sending their child for the first jab at age two and not the follow-up dose at age five.

Overwhelming evidence since then has demonstrated no link but today’s figures testify to the effect it has had with cases of measles rising every year since 2005.

Dr Mary Ramsay, an immunisation expert at the Health Protection Agency, said: "What is so alarming is that the majority of these cases could have been prevented as most were in children who were not fully protected with MMR."

Many children still remain unvaccinated over the last ten years, she said, allowing easy spread of measles from school to school and sibling to sibling.

Although many are above the ages of two and five when the vaccines are normally administrated, she reminded the public that it was "never too late" to have the jab.

In August Professor Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, set up an MMR catch up programme with funding for health professionals to identify individuals not immunised.

Separately, Guardian Bad Science columnist Dr Ben Goldacre has been threatened with legal action by broadcasting company LBC after posting a 44-minute excerpt from presenter, Jeni Barnett’s radio show. The clip, discussing the MMR jab, illustrates Dr Goldacre’s "grave concerns" over what was broadcast. He adds that such views are "a serious danger to public health" and that by posting the piece, people can judge its gravity for themselves.

However, LBC’s lawyers have told him posting the clip is an infringement of its copyright and that he must remove it from his website.

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