Parents must take lead over measles jabs - expert

Lucy Butler, 15, prepares for her measles jab at her school in Teesside, as the alert over a measles epidemic in England and Wales spreads. Picture: PA
Lucy Butler, 15, prepares for her measles jab at her school in Teesside, as the alert over a measles epidemic in England and Wales spreads. Picture: PA
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SCOTTISH parents must make sure their children are vaccinated against measles to protect themselves and others from the devastating consequences, an expert has warned.

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemi­ology at Edinburgh University, said measles kills more than 150,000 people a year around the world – mostly children.

He said it was important that parents knew research linking the MMR jab to autism had been completely discredited and vaccination was the best way to protect their children.

The British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland said it was working with the Scottish Government to find the best way to give jabs to those children yet to be vaccinated.

The advice comes after the Scottish Government announced that up to 50,000 unvaccinated children aged ten to 17 would be invited to have the MMR jab, following the recent rising number of measles cases in England and Wales.

Prof Woolhouse said the scare over the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) jab, caused by research in 1998, had created a serious public health issue that should never have happened.

While MMR uptake in Scotland did not fall as much as in other parts of the UK, he said some communities had lower rates and could be at greater risk of measles.

Prof Woolhouse said it was important to maintain high vaccination rates to create “herd immunity”, where unvaccinated people are protected due to low levels of infection circulating.

The World Health Organisation sets a target of 95 per cent vaccination to provide the best protection for the population.

Prof Woolhouse said: “Around the threshold for herd immunity, things can change very fast, so a drop of one or two per cent can lead to outbreaks. Where before, outbreaks were handfuls of cases, they could now become hundreds.”

Prof Woolhouse said it would be concerning if the same reasons that had stopped parents getting their children vaccinated held them back again.

“The imperative is that children are vaccinated – they protect themselves, other family members and other children at school by being vaccinated and build herd immunity,” he said.

Prof Woolhouse added that some children could only be protected against measles if other youngsters were vaccinated, such as those undergoing treatment for leukaemia.

“But this is not just about the public good – you are also protecting the child who is vaccinated. They are protected from a very unpleasant and, on rare occasions, fatal disease,” he said.

The Scottish Government has yet to release details of the cost or structure of the vaccination catch-up campaign, which could see sessions held in schools or GP clinics. A spokeswoman said: “We’ll work with boards to ensure the programme is delivered in the most cost-effective way.”

A BMA Scotland spokeswoman said doctors urged parents to take up the offer of the vaccine.

She added: “We are still waiting for the government to clarify the detail of its plans for this catch-up programme and how they intend it to be delivered.”