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University of Bristol
Wellcome Trust
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Society of Biology
PEEP for Physics & Ethics at GCSE

The MMR debate

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The Anti-MMR Campaigner

There are many parents who are convinced that their child was damaged by the MMR vaccine.  Perfectly normal children developed a range of problems after having the combined vaccine, the worst of these is full blown autism.  I know the scientists claim it is perfectly safe, but if there is even a chance of damage, why take the risk?  Also it is not just the vaccine itself I worry about. The drug companies have been known to use preservatives with mercy in them in vaccines.  That cannot be safe surely – and even if they are not using this now, what else might they be using and not telling us about?  This is a multi-million pound business after all, not a charity.

The GP

I would like to be able to offer my patients the separate vaccines. I know there is no real scientific evidence that this is better, but if it means some parents who would not opt for MMR have their child vaccinated it is better that than nothing.  I know there are some disadvantages – for starters there are six separate jabs, with gaps between, so there is a longer period before the child is fully protected and more risk of problems at the injection site as they have more jabs.  But we need to get 95% of children vaccinated before we get the level of coverage needed to protect everyone.  I am also concerned that because we get a financial incentive to give the MMR, my patients may not believe me when I recommend it to them.

The epidemiologist

The key question is whether or not the MMR vaccine is safe – and it is harder to prove the absence of a problem than to show where there is one.  The uncertainty started with a study suggesting that 8 out of 12 parents with children who had developed autism or bowel problems believed this coincided with the timing of their MMR vaccination.  But there are now a wealth of studies that looked for this link and did not find it.  There simply is no data to support a causal link between autism and MMR – only anecdote.  Even the one study which did claim a link has now been entirely discredited, with one of the original authors having now said he believes the evidence that there is no link is overwhelming.  And even if MMR did ‘cause’ autism – which I do not believe – the risk to children from the diseases it prevents is greater than the number of cases of autism that would be prevented.

The Journalist 

This debate has not been helped by the position taken by ministers.  We have two prominent members of the cabinet with children in the target age range for MMR and they will not say if they have had their children vaccinated.  Yet they are making it government policy that all children should have this, making it hard for anyone to chose separate vaccinations, and imposing financial penalties on GPs if less than 95% of children in their practice have the MMR.  I recognise the children have a right to privacy, but it is bound to make other parents curious surely?

The concerned mother 

My daughter is due to have her MMR next week. I just don’t’ know what to do. I realise that these childhood diseases are unpleasant, but the vaccination can make the baby feverish too. And what if the arguments about the links to autism are true?  Am I risking her whole life just to avoid a few nasty weeks of childhood discomfort?

The GP 

I am very concerned that some of my patients are choosing not to vaccinate their babies against measles, mumps and rubella.  These illnesses are quite rare now, but I remember a time not so long ago when that was not the case.  And these illnesses can be quite serious, which people forget.  Children can end up in hospital, and may have permanent ill effects such as blindness or infertility.  There are even fatalities, 14 children a year died in England and Wales before MMR according to government statistics.  The more children who are unvaccinated the more chance there is of the diseases returning on an epidemic scale.


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