Editorial: Stormont should be to the fore in pushing the MMR vaccine to protect children

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News Letter editorial on Thursday February 15 2024:

​​In 1998 a doctor wrote an essay in the Lancet linking the MMR vaccine to autism.

It took a while for the Lancet, a distinguished medical journal, to realise that the paper it had published was badly wrong.

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And it took more than a decade before its author, Dr Andrew Wakefield, was deservedly struck off the medical register for his utterly flawed and disgraceful research. The damage by then had been done, and has lingered ever since.

The mumps, measles and rubella vaccine does not cause autism and is in fact one of the most successful vaccines in the world.

But the fears about autism have never gone away.

Latterly the penetration levels of the vaccine, which was once administered to almost every child in the UK, have fallen for reasons in addition to the autism scare.

The covid pandemic massively disrupted non coronavirus vaccine programmes. It also introduced fresh anxieties and conspiracy theories about vaccines as a whole. Now there is a rise in measles cases across Europe, including a death in the Republic.

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The success of the MMR vaccine is such that we have forgotten how dangerous measles can be. Millions of deaths around the world are thought to have been averted by high rates of vaccination.

While there have been no recent cases, let alone deaths, in Northern Ireland, vaccination levels have fallen well below the World Health Organisation recommended rate of 95% of children having two doses. By the age of five it is now only 85%.

NI’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Lourda Geoghegan says the situation is “alarming”. She says it is “essential” that uptake of the full courses is increased.Stormont is back and its leaders should be to the fore in raising the profile of MMR, and dismissing misguided – in some cases almost superstitious – fears about it that could cause great harm and heartbreak.