MMR chief blames the media for jab 'errors'

By Steve Connor Science Editor
11 February 2002
The doctor behind the nation's childhood immunisation campaign launched a
scathing attack yesterday on those who continue to question the safety of
the triple MMR vaccine.

His intervention came as the Government was forced to admit it was losing
the public relations battle to shore up public support for the measles,
mumps and rubella triple vaccine.

David Salisbury, a paediatrician for more than 30 years, said any change in
the present policy to one in which parents were offered the choice between
a single or triple vaccine - as suggested by Liam Fox, the Tory health
spokesman - would be highly damaging for children. "The health service has
never given parents the choice to do harm before," Dr Salisbury, head of
the immunisation group in the Department of Health, told The Independent.
"Why should we actually contrive to cause harm?"

He poured scorn on sections of the media for undermining the MMR vaccine,
and questioned if he could serve a government that reverted to single
injections for measles, mumps and rubella. "I would find it extremely
difficult to be promoting a policy I thought was dangerous," Dr Salisbury
said. "I never went into medicine to do things that are dangerous and I
would find it enormously difficult to implement a policy I sincerely felt
would put children's lives at risk."

He said Whitehall was working on ways to swing public opinion behind the
triple vaccine. "We'll be taking a very much more active approach in
communicating to parents and providing them with the best information and
the best opportunities possible to have their children immunised," he said.
"If they [parents] are getting all their information from the newspapers
then quite a bit of what they are getting is misinformation. Every day I
read articles in our newspapers that contain factual errors. I don't know
if that is deliberate misinformation, or poor journalism, but every day I
see factual errors given credibility.

"One of the first patients I saw [as a young doctor] was a 12-year-old boy
who had come into hospital to die because his brain had been so devastated
by the long-term effects of measles," he said. "And one of the first babies
I had seen in the neonatal unit was one who had been damaged by congenital
rubella. I don't need to see any of those again, but that will be the
consequence of this drive for single vaccines."

Dr Salisbury said the MMR vaccine had never been linked with autism or
bowel disease despite repeated assertions to the contrary by some media
commentators. "I wonder if at some point all those journalists who have
done a great deal to destroy an immunisation programme question what
they've done," he said. "You only have to look at the hysteria in our
papers and then ask yourself why do the other 90 countries that use this
vaccine think we've gone completely mad?"

Dr Salisbury also criticised Andrew Wakefield, the doctor whose research
led to the current scare over MMR, for failing to include "very elementary
details" about the autistic children he cited in his study.

"How many people picked up the fact that in his paper that went on the
internet last week, some of his cases had had measles vaccine not MMR?"