Labour ‘to use TV adverts’ in desperate bid to prove that MMR is safe

Sunday Mail 10 Feb 2002

THE Government is planning a multi-million-pound televisionadvertising campaign in a last desperate bid to convince the pubflc that the controversial MMR vaccination is safe. The broadcasts are part of a package of measures to halt the crisis surrounding the measles, mumps and rubella jab, which has been linked to autism.

Other measures include a direct challenge by the Department of Health’s Chief Medical Officer to the doctor who triggered the controversy to back up his claims, and the creation of special medical teams which wifi target areas where parents are refusing to let their children have the MMR jab.

The costly exercise reveals the Government’s panic over the plummeting triple vaccination rates in some parts of the country, which have led to measles outbreaks.

However, despite growing public demand for single vaccines to be made available to parents on the NHS, the Government is refusing to consider the option.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has also refused to give a straight answer to the question of whether or not his 21-month-old son, Leo, has received the MMR jab.

The launch of the new campaign comes as another five studies are due to be published in the next three months showing a link between MMR and autism and bowel conditions.

Earlier this week it was, announced that Britain had run out of single vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella, prompting fears that children will not be vaccinated at all.

A Department of Health source said: ‘The Government is determined to take forward the fight on MMR. We are working on a programme of action to get the message across to mothers.

‘We don’t support the MMR vaccination out of stubbornness. It is the best way to vaccinate children against these conditions. We don’t support the single vaccines because they are not safe.

‘We are open-minded and are keeping all the scientific evidence under review. As soon as we see any scientific demonstrative link, we will take demonstrative action.’

However, thousands of parents remain unconvinced.

According to the latest survey, nearly 40 per cent of parents say Mr Blair’s refusal to reveal whether Leo has been vaccinated has dented their confidence.

Only one in five parents who have children under five or who are planning a baby think that MMR is safe, and only bne infour wants the Government to continue with its poiicy of offering only the triple injection.

The Government’s offensive will include a three-pronged attack on claims that MMR is linked to autism and bowel conditions.

First, the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, and other senior Government scientists will write an open letter to Dr Andrew Wakefield, whose research triggered concerns about the jab in 1998, asking him to justify his findings.

The Department of Health claims there are ‘scientific weaknesses’ in his studies and it will ask him to answer in detail its concerns.

Second, the Government is considering making a series of public service broadcasts on television and radio to explain why it backs the triple jab. In them, the Chief Medical Officerwill explain to the public why he believes MMR is safe.

The Department of Health source said: ‘The aim of the public service broadcasts is to give the Department of Health a proper chance to explain itself to the public.

‘There is some very complex scientific material and we need to get this across to people.’

Third, the Department of Health is planmng to create ‘action teams’ which will talk directly to mothers in a bid to improve vaccination rates.

The new drive is the second Government campaign to boost public confidence in MMR. In January last year, the Public Health Laboratory Service and the Department of Health launched a 3 million publicity campaign to persuade parents that MMR jabs posed no risk.