|EPIDEMIC FEAR OVER MEASLES
A measles epidemic could be unleashed on South Devon because too many parents
are refusing to have their children immunised.
The area is facing a major outbreak of the once-feared killer disease because of the
"alternative" lifestyle led by some locals, a family doctor has claimed.
Peter Edwards, a GP in Buckfastleigh, warned they were putting other people's children at
"We're already above the danger level," he said.
"Ireland has a measles epidemic already and we'll get one eventually. It's just a
question of time."
Only about 85 per cent of youngsters are getting the measles, mumps and rubella jab in
Torbay, Teignbridge and South Hams, well below the national target of 95 per cent.
Dr Edwards said: "If more than 10 children in a playground of 100 children haven't
been immunised, measles is more easily spread.
"Most of these parents have deliberately chosen not to get their children immunised,
but it's a choice I would dispute on scientific grounds."
The Republic of Ireland is suffering its worst measles outbreak for seven years, with two
children in Dublin dying and more than 1220 cases of measles this year, compared with 148
Experts say the low level of MMR vaccination is linked to parental forgetfulness, apathy,
and concerns about side effects. They cannot say, however, whether the uptake rate has
been influenced by The Lancet article published in 1998, which suggested that the vaccine
was linked to autism.
Two families are currently going through the High Court claiming their children were
damaged by the MMR.
And more than 570 families, including an undisclosed number from South West Wales, have
been granted legal aid to sue for damage they allege MMR caused to their babies.
Measles can cause pneumonia, ear infections, diarrhoea, seizures and brain damage and in
1965 a British epidemic claimed the lives of 103 children.
The NHS introduced a vaccine three years later but the disease is still blamed for more
than one million deaths world-wide each year.
Thirty-two American states require students to have had two doses of measles vaccine prior
to college enrolment.
In Britain, the Department of Health prefers to allow people an informed choice.
"Ultimately that is a political decision but I feel an individual has a
responsibility not only to their own children but also to the whole community," Dr
"I don't want to antagonise these people, but parents who don't get their children
immunised are putting other people's children at risk."
Dr Edwards spoke out after a mother complained his surgery would not permanently register
her two-year-old son because he had not had an MMR vaccination.
The GP explained that, to gain maximum funding for its immunisation clinic, the practice
had to meet an immunisation target of more than 90 per cent and the registration policy
was adopted on Government advice nearly ten years ago.
Dr Edwards stressed that not being permanently registered did not make any difference to
the treatment children received, as they were registered on a temporary basis each time
they were seen.
Gill Lewenden, public health doctor at South and West Devon Health Authority, said:
"The number of cases of measles has plummeted since the vaccination was introduced.
"We didn't have a confirmed case locally for six years until last summer, when we had
a number in single figures."