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Health chiefs fear measles outbreak

HEALTH bosses fear is in line for a measles outbreak as too few children are being immunised because of the MMR vaccine scare.

Eight cases of the infectious disease were confirmed in the and Harpenden area in the year to April 2004, up from two on 2002/3.

The rate of take-up of the controversial vaccine in the district was only 73.6 per cent in the first three months of 2003, the latest period for which figures are available.

This is well under the national average of 81.9 per cent and way below the level of 95 per cent experts say will ensure against a mass outbreak.

Vaccination rates for other child jabs in are around 97 per cent.

Many parents decided not to allow their children to have the triple vaccine which protects against mumps and rubella as well as measles after it was linked with autism in 1998 by Dr Andrew Wakefield.

The widely-publicised research has created a storm of controversy, with most experts insisting the jab is perfectly safe.

Dr Kate Mackay, director of public health for and Harpenden, who highlighted the issue in her annual report this week, said: "It is a significant increase and that is worrying.

"Eight cases might not seem many, but we did not have any for years.

"They are all children who have not been immunised.

"We were safe and we are no longer safe.

"We have one of the lowest levels of MMR immunisation in England.

"The response to the (Wakefield) research was greater in middle-class families.

"It is related to the affluence of .

"Since then there has been strong research that it (MMR) is safe.

"Measles is not a trivial infection. It has a small death rate and in adults it can be really, really nasty and have long-term implications."

She has been on local radio to push home the message and has written to all GPs in the area about her concerns.

Some parents have single vaccines for the diseases given to their children at private clinics but the official advice says these are less effective as they are spread out over a period of time.

Dr Mackay said there was no reason why a child who had been given a single vaccine should not also be given MMR.

5:48pm Monday 2nd August 2004

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