It would be difficult to be unaware of the measles epidemic in Swansea. The BBC have mentioned it in nearly every bulletin since the outbreak began a fortnight ago. Cynics like me think that as this is hardly earth-shattering news, the overkill is simply a nudge to all lax parents around the country to make sure their children have the MMR vaccination.
Controversy surrounding the MMR vaccine began in 1998 with the publication in the medical journal The Lancet of a paper which presned evidence that Autism Spectrum Disorder could be caused by the MMR vaccine which immunises against measles, mumps and rubella. The lead author of the paper Dr Andrew Wakefield also held a press conference at the Royal Free Hospital to discuss his findings. At no time did Dr Wakefield suggest it would be wise to forgo a measles vaccination, he was simply in favour of three single vaccinations against each disease. At the time this was an option for parents anyway. The press coverage at the time was limited. In 2001 Dr Wakefield published further papers suggesting the UK infant immunisation programme was not safe and citing cases where the measles virus had been found in tissue samples of children who suffered autism and bowel problems. This time, as my GP put it, Wakefield “got Hollywood.” The press coverage was enormous, take up of the MMR jab dropped exponentially.
The government which was already set on its MMR programme worked hard on damage limitation and everything possible was done to discredit Dr Wakefield. Much was made of conflicts of interests and bad science and subsequently all of Dr Wakefield’s findings were disproved and Dr Wakefield was struck off the medical register. There the story ought to end, parents could be reassured that the vaccination was safe and there would soon be an end to these terrible diseases.
But unfortunately for the government it wasn’t that simple. Many parents were still convinced that the MMR vaccine had damaged their children; some had compelling video footage of the child before the jab and ten days later and the differences were marked. Some scientists and GPs backed Wakefield. Despite heavy bullying tactics from many in the medical profession, some parents were going to stand their ground. At the time, some private clinics offered the single vaccinations, but this was an expensive option. Now there is no choice-it is MMR or leave your child unimmunised.
I have taken a keen interest in the MMR debate. I have an autistic child who had the MMR although I think she was showing autistic signs pre-jab. My next two children were given the jab after lengthy debates with my health visitor and GP who put forward convincing arguments. My youngest son has had no vaccinations. I weighed up the risks and made that decision. The media likes to scaremonger and I read this week that “it is only a matter of time before a child dies in Swansea of measles.” There is almost a sense of disappointment that so far there has been no tragedy. If anyone is still happy that the government only have our interests at heart,I would say- think Thalidomide, CJD, advice on AIDS, that babies should sleep on their fronts, that formula milk was equal to breastmilk. I may not agree with everything Dr Wakefield has done but I fully support his statement that,”what preciptated this crisis was the removal of the single vaccine, the removal of choice and that is what has caused the furore-because the doctors, the gurus are treating the public as though they are some kind of moronic mass who cannot make an informed decision for themselves.”