Doctors accused of scare tactics over measles outbreak warning
Nov 29 2002
A WARNING that GPs in an MMR blackspot area are gearing themselves up for
an outbreak of measles was dismissed yesterday as "scare tactics."
Swansea mother Natalie Bowden, who is campaigning for parents to have the
choice between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination and a single jab,
said, "They have been saying there will be an outbreak for five years and
nothing has happened yet.
"My own view, as a mother, is that these are nothing more than scare tactics."
But GPs insist there is cause for concern after the latest vaccination
figures show the uptake for the controversial MMR vaccine in Neath Port
Talbot and Swansea is now the lowest in Wales with only 72% of children
being immunised by their second birthday compared with 84% nationally.
This compares with other areas such as Bridgend and Ceredigion, where the
take up is 87%, and North Wales, where it is 84%. The highest is Cardiff
and the Vale, at 89%, while the lowest after Swansea and Port Talbot was
Carmarthenshire, at 79.8%.
Neath Port Talbot Local Health Group has been told there is a "sig-nificant
risk" of cases of measles occurring.
Dr Sara Hayes, consultant in public health, said, "Until now the
historically high levels of immunisation in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot
have kept the incidence of infectious childhood diseases at bay. But as the
level of MMR has been falling, young children are now very much at risk.
"With the current levels of vaccination as they are, people must accept
that it is increasingly likely that there will be individual cases and
possibly outbreaks of measles, mumps and rubella over the winter season."
Dr Andy Muir, a local GP and board member, added, "The consequences of an
outbreak will be significant not least due to the fact that many GPs will
never have seen a case of the disease and not recognise it in the early
stages. This could mean that hospital services will become overwhelmed."
Dr Mac Walapu, consultant in public health for Dyfed Powys Health
Authority, agrees there will be an outbreak of measles "at some point in
the future" because vaccine uptake rates need to be at least 95% to prevent
it occurring.
Last year there were four recorded cases of measles in Wales, a 400%
increase on 2000, according to figures from the Public Health Laboratory
Service. The number of cases of measles has risen steadily in the last five
years as the MMR uptake rate has fallen.
Linda Fitchett, a health visitor in Neath Port Talbot, emphasised the need
for anyone who had concerns about the childhood vaccination to speak to
their health visitor or GP, saying, "It is important to under-stand the
concerns of local people - but it is also essential that they have good
information and understand the risks.
"The low level of MMR uptake is a real concern, particularly with the low
coverage of young children now entering formal education."
And Dr Walapu added, "We would encourage all parents who have not yet had
their children vaccinated with the MMR vaccine to do so, particularly in
Llanelli where the uptake rate is the lowest in our area."
But a sceptical Mrs Bowden said, "If they want to get the figures back up
there is a simple solution - give parents a choice and access to a choice.
As things are parents have voted with their feet and shown they do not want
Mrs Bowden admitted there was always the possibility of an outbreak but she
said, "They are only recording the number of cases who have had MMR and are
not recording the children who have just had the single jab.
"As a result children could well be protected against measles - and this
could be why we have not had an outbreak. They do not register those
children who have had the single jab because they do not recognise it which
is really stupid.
"If they did a realistic statistic then it could be as high as 90%. This is
why I say their figures are part of scare tactics."
Morgannwg Health Authority is working with the area's NHS Trusts and
councils to ensure that local services will be able to respond to any
outbreak. Training events for GPs, hospital doctors and nurses have been
held throughout the health authority district, which extends from Swansea
to Bridgend, to raise awareness about these illnesses.