29 Oct 2010

Debate for compulsory MMR vaccinations widens in UK

BBC News - June 3, 3009

Calls are growing for compulsory MMR vaccinations and checking the vaccine records of children as an entry requirement for school and nursery.

On Tuesday Welsh health minister Edwina Hart said she was exploring "further options" for compulsory vaccination in Wales after a measles outbreak.

Now public health expert Sir Sandy Macara has backed compulsory vaccines.

Uptake of the MMR vaccine fell sharply after controversial research wrongly linked it to a raised risk of autism.

Wales is currently experiencing its largest measles outbreak in the last 20 years with 260 cases currently among children across the country. Thirty two cases have required hospital treatment.

Children in the UK are offered vaccination against measles as part of the MMR triple vaccine which is also designed to prevent mumps and rubella. It is given to them between 12 and 15 months of age along with a booster dose before they start school.

There had been concern about possible risks from vaccination, especially with the combined MMR vaccine, after some researchers suggested links with either autism or Crohn's disease and some parents want a single measles vaccine.

After debate on the subject in Cardiff Bay, Sir Sandy Macara, a former chairman of the British Medical Association, has backed a compulsory MMR vaccine and believes children should not be able to go to school unless they have first been vaccinated.

Sir Sandy has submitted a motion for debate at the annual BMA conference later this month. The BBC has also learned that the Strategic Health Authority for London has asked the Department of Health if it could introduce compulsory vaccinations and the right to insist on an immunisation certificate.

"Our attempts to persuade people have failed," he said.

His comments are made just hours after Edwina Hart told assembly members she was considering options around checking the vaccine records of children as a school entry requirement.

But, she warned that they would need to weigh higher vaccination levels against "the controversy likely to ensue".

Figures published last week, show that for January to March 2009, MMR uptake of the first dose in two year old children increased to 89.6% in Wales from 88.4% and of the second dose by five years of age increased to 83.4% from 82.3%.

However, they are still a long way off the 95% target.

'Informed choice'

Earlier this week, Torfaen Labour AM Lynne Neagle called for a debate in the assembly on a form of compulsory vaccination against measles.

Ms Neagle welcomed the announcement but said she remained concerned that some AMs raised the issue that the human rights of the child could somehow be contravened by compulsory immunisation.

"I simply say again that I am concerned about the rights of all children, such as those whose lives are put at risk by those parents who ignore clear scientific fact and medical advice by refusing to immunise their children," she said.

New leaflets outlining the risks from measles will be distributed to all parts of Wales and all secondary schools will receive a copy of an immunisation DVD during the next two weeks.

Conservative health spokesman Andrew Davies said: "If parents are given access to all the facts about MMR then hopefully they will make the informed choice to get their children vaccinated."

Ms Hart said some states in the US had a requirement for children to be vaccinated before they started school. The country has a 99% uptake of MMR among school entry children.

But she added: "This has not been necessary where high coverage has been achieved through other approaches and efforts, such as in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands."

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