Parents warned that lives are at risk as MMR jab take-up slides
Figures suggest a third of children are not immunised
11 April, 2019 — By Richard Osley
Dr Martin Abbas speaking in the Town Hall chamber
A DOCTOR has warned that the take-up of the MMR vaccine is too low and lives are being put at risk, as new figures suggest that nearly a third of Camden’s children are not being vaccinated.
Dr Martin Abbas told the Town Hall this week that he was faced with the “troubling” task of telling families that their children could die from preventable diseases – but still people refused.
He said: “We highlight that the rates are low but short of ringing them, calling them and begging them, you can’t get them to come in and do something they don’t want to do.”
MMR is a vaccination given to children – first as a baby and then a second dose at around three years – to foil measles, mumps and rubella. Since its introduction in the late 1980s the NHS says it has been “rare” for children to develop serious conditions.
Without protection, the diseases can lead to complications such as deafness or meningitis, or problems for pregnant women.
Dr Abbas, who works at a surgery in Swiss Cottage and has 14,000 patients, told the council chamber that the local Care Commissioning Group was analysing data to see if there had been inaccuracy. But he added: “There seem to be cultural groups that don’t seem to want to immunise their children and there is also a large internet campaign to not vaccinate your children with MMR.”
He told the council chamber: “I don’t know if this group is from America, or if it’s well-meaning individuals. But it [measles] is a very contagious disease. It is absolutely not without risk, it can kill you. I often have to tell patients that they’re doing something very detrimental to their children [by declining offer of immunisation] and it isn’t pleasant as a GP to tell parents that their child might die. Actually, it’s rather troubling.”
This week’s health inequality debate coincided with an outbreak of measles in New York, which illustrated how seriously health authorities around the world take the issue. People who refuse to be vaccinated are being fined $1,000.
In the UK, former Royal Free doctor Andrew Wakefield sparked a panic among parents when he falsely linked the MMR jab with autism. These claims have been widely discredited, but have in the past made it harder for doctors to explain the dangers of not having the vaccine. Mr Wakefield was later struck off.
Dr Abbas gave a wide-ranging presentation on health issues, but was asked by Conservative group leader Oliver Cooper to explain how a fall in vaccinations was being tackled.
Camden’s rolling figures put the vaccination rate at 71 per cent currently, but Cllr Cooper said the most up-to-date statistic given at a recent council meeting had fallen to 67 per cent – compared to an average national rate of 87 per cent.
“You are three times as likely to be unvaccinated in Camden as you are in England as a whole,” he said. “You’ve also got to remember that herd immunity means that not only are you putting yourself at risk by not getting vaccinated, you are putting everyone you come into contact with at risk as well.”
The alert follows declining vaccination rates recorded across Europe last year, and in the United Kingdom where the take-up fell for a fourth year running.
Dr Doug Brown, chief executive of the British Society for Immunology, said last year: “Vaccination saves lives. It is one of the safest and most cost-effective methods we have to prevent the spread of disease.”