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MMR: End the vaccine ignorance

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An urgent campaign to raise the take-up of childhood vaccinations is launched by the Mail today.

We are urging ministers to start a massive publicity drive to reassure parents that vaccines, particularly MMR, are safe and vital.

Measles cases have soared, with the disease striking 991 children last year – treble the 2017 total.

Official figures analysed by the Mail reveal that across Europe only France has more children without protection against the disease.

Jilly Moss's baby daughter Alba who had measles earlier this year. Measles cases have soared, with the disease striking 991 children last year – treble the 2017 total. Official figures analysed by the Mail reveal that across Europe only France has more children without protection against the disease

Jilly Moss’s baby daughter Alba who had measles earlier this year. Measles cases have soared, with the disease striking 991 children last year – treble the 2017 total. Official figures analysed by the Mail reveal that across Europe only France has more children without protection against the disease

Nearly 62,000 UK babies missed their measles, mumps and rubella jab last year. And more than half a million children have not had the vaccination since 2010 (Alba Moss, pictured)

Nearly 62,000 UK babies missed their measles, mumps and rubella jab last year. And more than half a million children have not had the vaccination since 2010 (Alba Moss, pictured)

Nearly 62,000 UK babies missed their measles, mumps and rubella jab last year. And more than half a million children have not had the vaccination since 2010. Health experts fear parents are being turned against inoculation by fake science put on social media by the ‘anti-vaxx’ lobby.

Busy modern lifestyles and public complacency have also been cited for the crisis, with many adults forgetting that measles is a killer.

Two weeks ago a Government report revealed uptake had fallen for all ten childhood jabs, including measles, polio, meningitis and whooping cough.

Debbie Roscoe, 57, and her daughter Ellie, 24. Ellie almost died from measles last year because Debbie chose for Ellie not to have the full MMR jabs as a child.

Debbie Roscoe, 57, and her daughter Ellie, 24. Ellie almost died from measles last year because Debbie chose for Ellie not to have the full MMR jabs as a child.

But health officials are particularly worried about MMR vaccination rates, which have slipped to their lowest level in five years. Two months ago the World Health Organisation declared that the UK was no longer ‘measles free’, with poor vaccination rates blamed for the virus’s return.

The Mail’s campaign is calling for the NHS to introduce an alert system – text messages or letters – to remind busy parents of immunisation appointments.

This newspaper urgently wants to see the fall in uptake reversed, to such an extent that we hit 95 per cent coverage across all ten jabs.

This vital 95 per cent figure is the World Health Organisation’s target because it ensures ‘herd immunity’ from a virus.

With so many of the population protected, the virus is unable to spread and subsequently dies out. The UK would regain its ‘measles free’ status if vaccination rates improved sharply.

Dr Mary Ramsay of Public Health England, the Government agency which oversees vaccinations, said: ‘These diseases kill. Every child getting the right vaccine at the right time – that’s what we need to achieve. We’re delighted to have the Mail on board, getting the message to parents and supporting the changes we’re making.’

Liam Sollis of the charity Unicef UK said: ‘A serious measles outbreak is a ticking time-bomb. It’s great to see the Mail’s campaign to promote vaccination.’

Measles cases have soared, with the disease striking 991 children last year – treble the 2017 total. Official figures analysed by the Mail reveal that across Europe only France has more children without protection against the disease

Measles cases have soared, with the disease striking 991 children last year – treble the 2017 total. Official figures analysed by the Mail reveal that across Europe only France has more children without protection against the disease

What every parent MUST know 

WHAT IS THE MMR VACCINE? 

The MMR jab is a combined vaccination that protects against measles, mumps and rubella, all extremely serious diseases. Before the introduction of measles vaccines in the 1960s there were, on average, 85 deaths from the disease each year in England and Wales. MMR was introduced in 1988 and has proved so effective that between 1999 and 2019 there were only four deaths.

Mumps can cause deafness, brain swelling and meningitis. Rubella generally presents as a mild rash in children, but if it’s caught early in pregnancy, a woman has a 90 per cent chance of passing the virus on to her foetus which can cause severe birth defects or death.

The MMR jab is given as part of a NHS childhood vaccination schedule that starts from the age of eight weeks and goes up to 14 years. The age at which children have each vaccination varies, but as well as MMR, the schedule includes rotavirus (a common cause of diarrhoea and sickness), whooping cough, meningitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, polio and HPV (human papillomavirus, linked to cervical cancer).

MMR is given in two stages, first at one year old and then a booster jab at three years and four months. The vaccine contains weakened versions of measles, mumps and rubella viruses, along with water and preservatives for better storage and to hold the components together. Two brands of MMR are available on the NHS – Priorix and MMRVaxPro (which contains porcine gelatine).

‘Once you’ve been vaccinated, your immune system develops memory antibody cells,’ explains Dr Nicky Longley, a consultant in travel medicine and infectious diseases at University College London. ‘Next time it comes into contact with the infection, those memory cells are ready to divide and produce an army of immune cells fighting the infection and preventing it from invading your body and making you ill.’

HOW EFFECTIVE IS MMR?

A single dose protects 93 per cent of people against measles, 78 per cent against mumps and 97 per cent against rubella. The recommended two doses of the vaccine increase the rate of protection to 97 per cent for measles and rubella, and 88 per cent for mumps. You may still catch one of these diseases after being vaccinated but it’s very unlikely and, if you do, it will be a much milder version.

Protection against measles and rubella lasts for many decades; protection from mumps gradually declines (lasting on average 27 years) so many adults may not be immune.

WHY DO EXPERTS SAY IT’S SAFE?

Anti-vaxxers claim the triple vaccine is too much of an assault on a young child’s immune system. But, according to Dr Doug Brown, chief executive of the British Society for Immunology, it works because if the vaccines were spread out, children would be vulnerable for longer.

‘A child’s immune system is designed to fight off lots of germs every day,’ he says. ‘The amount of challenge that it faces from the combined vaccine is very small in comparison and puts no extra strain on it.’ Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, says there is no evidence the triple vaccine is too much for a child’s body. ‘You cannot overload your immune system,’ he adds. ‘And the MMR involves just two visits (rather than six if each vaccine was given separately) – fewer needles for your children.’

WHY DOES IT MATTER IF MMR IMMUNISATION RATES DROP?

Infectious diseases are easily passed from person to person and entire communities can rapidly become infected. If a high enough proportion of a community is protected by immunisation, it stops the disease circulating because the number of people who can be infected is so small. This is called herd immunity. Herd immunity is important because it protects people who cannot be vaccinated – some of the most vulnerable people in society, including children who are too young to be vaccinated and people with a compromised immune systems. By vaccinating your child, you’re not only protecting them but also protecting the most vulnerable in your community.

The World Health Organisation advises that 95 per cent of children need to be receive the MMR jab in order to stop the diseases spreading. ‘This is particularly important for measles as it is so contagious,’ says Dr Brown. ‘In an unvaccinated community, each person with measles would on average pass the disease on to 12 others. That’s why ensuring a high vaccination rate is critical to stopping the spread of this disease.’

HOW MANY CHILDREN HAVE IT?

The uptake of MMR in the UK is well below the recommended level of 95 per cent to achieve herd immunity – with an uptake of 90.3 per cent in 2018/19. This is lower than in many other European countries. Recent NHS vaccine statistics for England showed that last year only 86.4 per cent of children receive two doses of MMR by the age of five.

In the past few years, measles and mumps rates have risen rapidly in the UK – and all over the world. The number of cases across Europe soared from about 5,000 in 2016 to 84,000 in 2018. The US is suffering its worst measles outbreak for 27 years. The WHO lists vaccine hesitancy – delaying or avoiding jabs – as one of its top ten global health threats.

WHY ARE SOME PARENTS SHUNNING THE VACCINE?

a major issue is not being able to get a GP appointment at a convenient time, says Dr Jonathan Kennedy, a global public health expert at Queen Mary University of London. ‘In a recent survey by the Royal Society of Public Health, the “timing, availability and location of appointments were identified as barriers to vaccination”,’ he says.

‘There’s also a problem with demand for vaccines as a result of concerns about safety,’ he adds. ‘In the same survey, one in five parents thought MMR was likely to cause unwanted side-effects and one in ten decided not to vaccinate their child with MMR, the majority due to concerns over safety.’ MMR can potentially cause redness, pain or swelling at the site of the injection, a fever (about one in 15 children) or a short-lived rash (around one in ten). Extremely uncommon side-effects include severe allergic reactions and seizures.

WHAT ABOUT MMR AND AUTISM?

Some parents believe the triple jab can cause autism. The root of this lies in a paper published in 1998 in the Lancet medical journal by Dr Andrew Wakefield. The British gastroenterologist had looked at 12 children with autism, identifying eight whose parents said their children’s behavioural symptoms had developed within two weeks following the MMR jab. The paper had a major impact but Wakefield was struck off in 2010 by the General Medical Council for acting dishonestly and irresponsibly in the way he conducted his research. His paper was retracted by the Lancet.

HOW DO WE KNOW THE MMR DOESN’T CAUSE AUTISM?

AT least ten major studies have shown there is no link between the MMR and autism. The most recent, published earlier this year, involved over 650,000 children and found not only no evidence of a connection, but that this was true even among children considered at heightened risk of autism.

SHOULD MMR BE MANDATORY?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says there is a ‘very strong argument’ for making vaccinations for children compulsory.

According to Dr Kennedy, the UK would not be the first country to consider this. ‘In 2017, the Italian government announced that unvaccinated children would not be allowed to attend school,’ he says. ‘The following year, France increased the number of mandatory vaccines from three to 11.

‘In the US, where parents can claim exemptions from compulsory vaccination for medical, philosophical or religious reasons, some states have moved to limit or eliminate non-medical exemptions.

‘Data suggests that mandatory vaccination legislation is effective,’ he adds, pointing to Italy and France, where vaccine uptake has increased uptake.

But Dr Brown says compulsory vaccination is a blunt tool and there is no evidence that it would increase immunisation rates. ‘There are concerns that it could increase current health inequalities and alienate parents with questions on vaccination,’ he warns.

WHAT IF MY CHILD MISSED OUT ON THE MMR JAB?

It’s never too late to catch up. Older children and adults who missed out can get the jab free on the NHS.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, who chairs the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘It’s vital parents understand that choosing not to vaccinate their child isn’t just putting their own child at risk, but other children too.

‘There is a lot of dangerous anti-vaccination propaganda out there, particularly on social media, that can be incredibly confusing.

‘We hope the Mail’s campaign will help to cut through this confusion and allow people make positive, informed and educated choices.’

A health scare over MMR was triggered 20 years ago when a study by former NHS consultant Andrew Wakefield linked the jab to autism.

Like many news organisations, the Daily Mail gave coverage to his findings, which had been published in a highly respected medical journal, the Lancet. However, Wakefield’s research was later found to be ‘utterly false’ and he was struck off the medical register.

Measles is highly infectious and causes a temperature, cold-like symptoms, greyish spots and sore, red eyes. Usually it clears up after ten days but sometimes it leads to swelling of the brain, which can cause deafness or death.

Figures provided by Unicef and analysed by the Mail show that 61,788 one-year-olds missed the first MMR vaccine in the UK in 2018. This was the second highest number in Europe after France, where 72,703 babies were not given the jab last year. Turkey was third with a figure of 52,058 and the Ukraine fourth at 37,660. The Mail compared data for 43 European nations without adjusting for population size.

Unlike many other countries, the UK’s vaccination rates are falling so the number of unprotected children is going up every year. This is despite numerous credible studies showing there is absolutely no link between MMR and autism, nor any other illnesses.

One of the most definitive reviews was published in March and involved 650,000 children who had been tracked for ten years. The authors from the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen concluded there was ‘no support’ for the link.

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The figures from Unicef show that around 585,000 children in the UK missed their first MMR jab between 2010 and 2018. Just 92 per cent of one-year-olds were given it, three percentage points short of the WHO’s target.

The most recent figures for England alone are even worse and, in 2018/19, only 90 per cent of children received the first MMR jab. The NHS recommends they are given a second dose when they are three.

Last week Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed he was taking legal advice on introducing compulsory vaccinations for school children. But public health experts fear this will have adverse consequences with parents feeling forced to take children out of school.

Yesterday doctors called for vaccinations to be offered in supermarkets and nurseries to tackle the decline in uptake.

One reason the number of unvaccinated children in the UK is higher than some European nations is that our population is larger. 

HOUNDED BY ‘ANTI VAXXER’ TROLLS… OVER MY BABY’S MEASLES AGONY 

Weeks before her jab was due, Alba was seriously infected. But when her mother posted this picture as a warning to other parents, she was sickeningly abused 

Jilly Moss will never forget the night she thought that her baby daughter Alba was going to die. ‘It was the worst time of my life and I was absolutely terrified,’ she says.

It was in April this year when little Alba, who was about to turn one, contracted measles.

Too young to be vaccinated, the youngster was hospitalised after her temperature soared to 42c. Her eyes were swollen shut and doctors were worried that Alba could lose her sight. She couldn’t eat or drink and had so much trouble breathing that she had to be put on oxygen.

It was a terrifying time for Jilly, 35, a full-time mother and husband Richard, 35, a product manager who live in Surbiton, Surrey, with their daughter, now 18 months. The couple have no idea where she caught the virus, but Alba first showed signs of the illness in the days leading up to her birthday on April 1.

Jilly Moss will never forget the night she thought that her baby daughter Alba (pictured) was going to die. ‘It was the worst time of my life and I was absolutely terrified,’ she says. It was in April this year when little Alba, who was about to turn one, contracted measles

Jilly Moss will never forget the night she thought that her baby daughter Alba (pictured) was going to die. ‘It was the worst time of my life and I was absolutely terrified,’ she says. It was in April this year when little Alba, who was about to turn one, contracted measles

‘She had no appetite, a high temperature, puffy eyes and a very delicate rash on the back of her head and I was back and forth to the doctors who kept saying it was viral and nothing to worry about,’ says Jilly.

‘She’d been a healthy baby before that but about four days after her birthday, I was getting increasingly concerned. I took a picture of her rash and sent it to my granny, a 93-year-old former teacher, and she rang me straight away and said: “She’s got measles.” But when I took Alba back to the GP, the doctor said I shouldn’t worry.’

However the next day, the couple took their little girl to Chelsea And Westminster hospital. ‘She hadn’t eaten or drunk anything and we were getting really concerned,’ says Jilly. ‘That’s where they diagnosed measles. At first, I was relieved. I thought it could have been meningitis and when I heard the word “measles”, I assumed it was the sort of illness children recovered from all the time. But the doctor said: “I don’t think you realise, it’s incredibly serious.” ’

Too young to be vaccinated, the youngster was hospitalised after her temperature soared to 42c. Her eyes were swollen shut and doctors were worried that Alba could lose her sight. She couldn’t eat or drink and had so much trouble breathing that she had to be put on oxygen

Too young to be vaccinated, the youngster was hospitalised after her temperature soared to 42c. Her eyes were swollen shut and doctors were worried that Alba could lose her sight. She couldn’t eat or drink and had so much trouble breathing that she had to be put on oxygen

The next eight days saw Alba undergo several tests, including a spinal tap and an MRI scan, and she given strong doses of antibiotics. ‘Her little body was shutting down and the doctors wanted to make sure there were no secondary infections,’ Jilly recalls. ‘The doctors and nurses were incredible. They kept us calm and it was only afterwards, when we were discharged, that they admitted how very worried they’d been.’

In fact, the doctors urged the couple to share pictures of their daughter on social media to encourage people to be vaccinated. ‘They said: “We’re seeing more and more cases of measles, so it would be good if you could share these images online and educate them about what could happen.” And I was more than happy to do that.’

But when Jilly shared a post on Facebook showing pictures of Alba covered in measles and encouraging people to vaccinate their children, she was shocked by the backlash. ‘I’ve never witnessed hatred like it from mothers to another mother,’ she says. ‘They were blaming me, saying that it was my fault she’d got measles because I hadn’t kept her at home all year.

‘They said I had been feeding Alba poison because I’d been formula-feeding her — in fact, I’d been breastfeeding — and at one point, they suggested that none of it was real. They said Richard worked for a big pharmaceutical company, that I was an actress and Alba was a doll.

‘They’d send me information containing absolute rubbish — saying there were “dead baby cells” in the MMR vaccine and things like that. What boggles my brain is that most of the anti-vaxxers are from my generation, people who have been vaccinated themselves, so they are protected but won’t protect their own children. They believe there’s a link with autism, even though the doctor who started the MMR scare [Andrew Wakefield] has been totally discredited and lost his licence.’

Alba is still undergoing tests to see if the illness has affected her in the long term.

‘She’s not out of the woods and only a couple of weeks ago had to be rushed into hospital with a convulsion which may or may not be related,’ says Jilly.

‘She’s been having vacant episodes and there was talk about possible epilepsy. We’re waiting to see a neurologist to see if any damage has been done but we just don’t know.

‘I will never understand people who won’t trust doctors when it comes to vaccines. If their child wasn’t breathing, they’d take it straight to the hospital to be treated by doctors, not stick it in a darkened room and give it vitamins.

‘If anyone is concerned or worried about what’s in the vaccine or about side-effects, they should speak to their doctor and get advice. The last thing they should do is go on the internet and read what the anti-vaxxers are saying.

‘I wouldn’t want to wish what we’ve been through on anyone.’

My child was close to death – because I didn’t give her jab 

Debbie Roscoe, 57, and her daughter Ellie, 24. Ellie almost died from measles last year because Debbie chose for Ellie not to have the full MMR jabs as a child.

Debbie Roscoe, 57, and her daughter Ellie, 24. Ellie almost died from measles last year because Debbie chose for Ellie not to have the full MMR jabs as a child.

In January 2017, Debbie Roscoe’s daughter, Ellie, was just hours from dying after she contracted measles. Debbie, 57, a charity campaigner from Harborne, Birmingham, had chosen not to give Ellie, now 25, the second MMR jab as a toddler after reading news stories linking the vaccinations to autism. Here Debbie and Ellie share their story to warn other parents just how serious the consequences of not vaccinating your child can be . . .

Debbie says: When all the scare stories, saying MMR jabs could cause autism, broke in 1998, Ellie – then aged four — had just been scheduled to have hers.

I have a close friend who has two daughters with severe autism, and I knew how challenging it can be; I thought that even if Ellie did catch measles, mumps or rubella, they couldn’t be anywhere near as bad.

So, though she’d had the first of the two jabs when she was younger, I decided she shouldn’t have her second. Nineteen years later at the start of 2017, aged 23, Ellie developed a severe hacking cough and rash, so I took her to our family GP, who diagnosed chicken pox. But the rash got worse and her temperature kept rising, so we went to see another GP, who gave the same diagnosis.

Something just didn’t seem right, and that evening, I called my mum for advice. She told me I should wait until the morning — we’d seen two doctors who had the same opinion and I was probably just being over-anxious.

I dialled the NHS 111 line, but was told to wait and see if things deteriorated. However, all my instincts were telling me that this was serious.

After calling 999, I was told we’d have to wait up to four hours for an ambulance, as I’d already had two doctors tell me that it was chickenpox. By then, Ellie was hallucinating and coughing uncontrollably, so I decided to drive her to Heartlands Hospital, in Bordesley Green, Birmingham, myself.

At the hospital, a nurse took one look and I could immediately tell how serious it was by his face. A consultant came straight away and sent Ellie for blood tests and chest X-rays.

At first, they thought Ellie might have meningitis, so when I was told it was measles I breathed a sigh of relief because I had no idea how serious it could be.

Then the consultant told me Ellie’s life was in the balance, and if I’d waited until the morning to bring her in, she would likely have died.

Put into isolation, placed on oxygen and given anti-viral drugs, Ellie slowly recovered. But sitting by her bedside, seeing measles completely envelope my gorgeous daughter, I felt so angry and also guilty.

Debbie Roscoe, 57, and her daughter Ellie, 24. Ellie almost died from measles last year because Debbie chose for Ellie not to have the full MMR jabs as a child

Debbie Roscoe, 57, and her daughter Ellie, 24. Ellie almost died from measles last year because Debbie chose for Ellie not to have the full MMR jabs as a child

If I’d been better informed in 1998, I would 100 per cent have made Ellie have that second jab.

She was discharged five days later, but she’s never really been the same since. At the start of this year, she was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that develops after a virus and which causes the body’s immune system to attack your vital organs, bones and skin. She will have to take medications to combat the disease — which is believed to have been triggered by her measles — for the rest of her life.

While I still believe that getting your child vaccinated should be the choice of every parent, that decision needs to be informed by the real facts, not scare-mongering.

Just look at the photograph of Ellie when she was hours from death and you’ll see the reality of what can happen if your child doesn’t get vaccinated. It seems like a no-brainer to me.

If it wasn’t for the amazing medical staff at Heartlands, their quick response, amazing professionalism and continuing care, Ellie wouldn’t be here.

Since her illness I’ve decided to create something positive out of such a horrific situation, and set up a charity called Arrive Alive to help raise money for Community First Responders, medically-trained volunteers deployed via a 999 call, who can deliver life-saving treatment during those vital minutes before an ambulance can arrive. I almost lost my beautiful daughter — now I want to make sure that no one else loses their child.

ellie says: Before I got measles, I didn’t really understand the importance of vaccinations. But going through what I did, and almost dying in the process, has shown me how vital they are.

I’m not angry with my mum for making the decision she did, and she shouldn’t feel guilty — she used the information available at the time to do what she thought was best for me.

But I’m livid with the anti-vaxxers who are trying to persuade parents to not vaccinate their children when they don’t understand what they’re saying.

If I’d died, Mum would’ve been racked with the most crushing guilt for the rest of her life, and all because of some flawed science scaring people into not protecting their children.

We want to share our story so that more parents know how deadly measles can be. While nobody can definitively say my lupus was caused by my measles, it’s what all the evidence points towards.

Thanks to the disease, my life is on hold — I can’t do any of the normal things a 25-year-old can do, such as going out to bars or clubs, playing sport, focusing on building a career or even going shopping.

The medications I’m on now to suppress my immune system and stop it from attacking me are one step down from chemotherapy in terms of strength and severity. I can’t go out in the sun or cold, I can’t be exposed to people with bugs, I’m so tired all the time, and my joints constantly ache.

There will always be potential side-effects from any medication or vaccine, but I just hope my story — and those of dozens like me — will encourage more parents to get their children fully vaccinated.

TO HELP Arrive Alive save more lives, visit arrivealiveresponse.co.uk

Interviews: MATTHEW BARBOUR

 

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