White, middle-class, loving mums. And their stupitidy could kill your child


It isn’t enough that my daughter has had her MMR jab. Her friends must have them too

THE CHILDREN’S birthday party was in full swing: balloons, jelly, organic milk, Marmite sandwiches and rosy faces. One of the other mothers ruffles her three-year-old’s hair: “There was no way I was going to let Harry have the MMR — he’s the only child I’m going to have and I don’t want him going autistic on me.”

Panic-stricken, I look around the room: nine toddlers, aged between 2 and 4. How many of their mothers share this one’s view about MMR? How many of these children have never been immunised? Given that herd protection needs a vaccination rate of 92 per cent, it is not enough that my own daughter, almost 3, has received her MMR jabs; her friends need to be vaccinated too.


I want to go up to the woman and shake her: do you realise you risk hurting, even killing, your son and those he comes in contact with? Measles can kill, mumps can lead to infertility and deafness, and a pregnant woman infected with rubella has an 83 per cent chance of giving birth to a child with some deformity. Yet parents such as her get away with it. They are middle-class and clean-cut, well meaning and well spoken. We indulge them because they assure us, ever so eloquently, that they are motivated by parental love. We cut them slack because we are convinced that even irrational fear, when in such cosy packaging, cannot have dangerous consequences.

We are wrong. Last week the Health Protection Agency reported the worst incidence of measles in 20 years. Three months ago the first child in 14 years was killed by the virus. Pockets of infection have surfaced in Surrey and in Yorkshire. We face a real health scare, because rogue parents fell for a bogus health scare — the one linking the MMR vaccine to autism.

It is eight years since Andrew Wakefield began agitating against the MMR jab. In that time he managed to persuade hundreds of thousands to keep their children from taking part in the immunisation programme. Dr Wakefield, a former gut surgeon, was an extraordinarily convincing spokesman: when he made public his claims at a press conference at the Royal Free he throbbed with messianic ardour and heartfelt concern for those poor innocents whom the State wished to inject with poison.

When he faced critics who pointed out that he built his thesis on a skewed sample of only 12 children, he played the medical martyr who risked his career for the good of others.

Anxious parents, unsure of their science and suspicious of the nanny state, were Dr Wakefield’s apostles. They rushed to spread his message and live out his commandments.

Boden-wearing mothers and SUV-driving fathers refused to do the authorities’ bidding and vowed to protect their children from the evil that would be perpetrated against them.

The Boden sundress and capable car determined the reaction that these parents aroused. Countless mothers and fathers shivered at the images of a middle-class couple looking on as their autistic son failed to show any sign of recognition. Even some doctors took seriously their descriptions of a terrifying fear and an all-engulfing guilt: these people were obviously educated, perhaps even knew something of biology, so their experience and worries could not be dismissed out of hand. The media loved to feature their harrowing tales, relishing the contrast between these couples’ orderly and well-heeled existence and the dark, primitive fear that prompted them to rebel against the authorities. As for the Government, the Blairites didn’t dare take on this powerful and influential constituency, and opted out of forcing MMR upon all school children — a surefire method adopted already in America, where a child’s inoculation records must be presented before admission to any school.

Now: imagine the brouhaha if the Wakefield weirdos had been not middle-class whites but, let’s say, Muslims. Other parents would have been up in arms, raging against the superstitious claptrap that risked landing their little one in hospital. The media would have wallowed in coverage of semi-literate households where a patriarch brandishing a well-thumbed copy of the Koran chased away the doctors, social services and all other Western busybodies.

The analogy is hardly preposterous. When imams in Nigeria managed to persuade tens of thousands of followers that they should boycott the polio vaccine because it was actually a Western plot to render them infertile, the ensuing outcry was almost racist in its condescension: what, don’t they know any better? But the same can be asked of the middle-class parents who joined the anti-MMR crusade.

Dr Wakefield failed to disclose that the parents of 11 of the 12 children in his original study were suing the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine; and that he had been hired to help them by a firm of solicitors. Since then scientific evidence against Dr Wakefield’s findings has been conclusive: epidemiological and virological studies, including one that examined half a million children born in Denmark, found absolutely no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Yet middle-class mummies and daddies still wear opposition to MMR like a badge of honour.

The General Medical Council last week, quite rightly, started disciplinary proceedings against Dr Wakefield. But while he could be struck off the medical register, vilified as the Abu Hamza of the medical profession, what of his followers? We need to deal with the hysterical middle-class parents who, in the name of love, risk dragging Britain back to an era of high child mortality. The answer lies in education, education, education: we cannot force parents to become scientifically literate, but we can ensure that their children’s attendance of schools, state or private, depends on their having had a complete set of jabs. Only then will the well-clad, well-heeled troops turn round their SUVs and beat a retreat.