MMR jab should be compulsory for all children starting school, expert says

Welsh health minister considering options for compulsory vaccination as UK measles cases hit record high


 Wednesday 3 June 2009 10.28 BST
Children should only be allowed to start school if they have been vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella, a leading public health expert has said as measles cases in the UK hit a record high.

Sir Sandy Macara, former chairman of the British Medical Association, will tell doctors later this month that a vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella - known as the MMR jab - should be compulsory for all children starting school.

His comments come as the Welsh health minister revealed she is exploring whether to make the vaccination compulsory for school and nursery entry.

Edwina Hart said she was prepared to "explore further the options" for a compulsory childhood vaccination policy as Wales experiences its largest outbreak of measles since the MMR vaccine was introduced 20 years ago, with 253 cases so far.

The number of parents who have had their children vaccinated has plummeted after research, later discredited, linked the jab to an increased risk of autism and Crohn's disease.

Children in the UK are offered the MMR vaccine between 12 and 15 months old and a booster dose before they start school. But a quarter of children under five have not had both injections.

Doctors have reported measles outbreaks across the UK and raised fears that there could be an epidemic.

Macara, who has submitted a motion for debate at the British Medical Association's annual conference, said: "Our attempts to persuade people have failed.

"The suggestion is that we ought to consider making a link which in effect would make it compulsory for children to be immunised if they are to receive the benefit of a free education from the state."

Hart said: "In considering a compulsory vaccination policy for Wales, we would need to consider the legal issues and look at the potential benefit of delivering a higher coverage level against the controversy that is likely to ensue.

"The implementation and enforcement of such a policy for MMR immunisation may harm the confidence of parents on perhaps ethical, political, and religious grounds.

"In addition, preventing unimmunised children from starting school would be seen as infringing their universal right to an education.

"However, I do think that we should explore further the options for making completed vaccinations or checking and recording vaccination status an entry requirement for nurseries and schools."

The London strategic health authority asked the government if it could introduce compulsory vaccinations, but was told the voluntary immunisation system would remain in place, it has been reported.

Documents obtained through a freedom of information request reveal ministers were asked about the "feasibility of requiring an immunisation certificate for measles before children go to school".

While acknowledging that immunisation rates in London are consistently lower than the rest of the country, a Department of Health official reportedly said: "Our strategy is to maintain a voluntary immunisation system and invest efforts in educating parents about the benefits of vaccination and dispelling 'myths' about vaccine safety."

In the US, most of Australia, Spain and Greece, vaccinations are linked to school admissions.