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Rash actions and dire consequences

Friday 1 May 2009 22.30 BST

I'm furious – the selfish, wrong-headed beliefs of a few precious MMR refuseniks have put my daughter's life at risk


James Randerson

My baby daughter is desperately ill and her life has been put at risk by the selfishness of a sizable minority of north London parents and their wrong-headed beliefs about the MMR vaccine. Earlier this week my normally vigorous and feisty 11-month-old was reduced to drowsy, snot-filled lethargy. She refused food, became uncharacteristically listless and developed a hacking cough. Then that evening the measles rash appeared over most of her body – great timing for trying to get an appointment with the doctor. The waiting room was rammed with patients convinced they had contracted swine flu.

That, at least, is a rational fear. The anti-MMR parents have endangered my child (she was due to have the vaccine at 13 months) because of their own ill-informed selfishness – and I'm furious.

The sorry MMR saga began in 1998 with a tiny study (since partially retracted) in the Lancet. Andrew Wakefield and his team described 12 children with both bowel and behavioural problems who underwent various blood tests, gastrointestinal biopsies and lumbar punctures. It was, frankly, a deeply unimpressive piece of science which came to the less than stunning conclusion, "Further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome and its ­possible relation to this vaccine."

Instead, Wakefield himself is now being investigated by the General Medical Council over the research, because of alleged breaches of medical ethics and financial conflicts of interest. But what followed was a prolonged and shameful journalistic episode, in which Wakefield's speculation and misinformation was spread via flimsy news stories and scandalous comment pieces.

In 2001, at the peak of the media attention when the Blairs refused to say whether Leo had received the jab, I could almost forgive precious parents for being confused. But now there is ­absolutely no excuse. A shoddy theory has been conclusively quashed.

The World Health Organisation's take on the wealth of studies now out there is that "no evidence exists of a causal association between the MMR vaccine and autism or autistic disorders". On its website on immunisation the NHS states that, "independent experts from around the world have found no credible scientific evidence for such a link and there is now a large amount of evidence showing that there is no link". Trust me, this is as nailed down as science gets.

So anyone who clings to the notion that MMR causes autism is just plain wrong. Worse, if you opt not to have your child vaccinated, you are reducing the "herd immunity" and putting other children at serious risk. To be effective, the jab must cover 95% of the population, but because of the actions of MMR refusniks that is now below 85% – and in some parts of London it is down to 60%.

Those who delay or miss out their child's vaccinations are putting ­everyone else at risk. Measles is a ­serious ­disease that can lead to hearing loss, brain inflammation and death – plus miscarriage in pregnant women.

According to the Health ­Protection Agency there were 1,348 cases of ­measles last year, compared with 56 in 1998. In 2006 a 14-year-old boy died of ­measles – the first fatal case for 14 years. The reduction in herd immunity is ­causing unnecessary suffering.

The decision by many of my neighbours not to vaccinate their children is on a par with the drunk who decides to get into his car to drive home. It is a personally reckless action that also endangers the lives of everyone else on the road. Society should view the MMR refuseniks with the same degree of scorn.