AT A GLANCE: Government faces new MMR comms challenge

What is going on? The Daily Telegraph suggested this week that the country is facing a measles epidemic as parents shun the controversial measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) injection.

Who says? The Telegraph quotes Dr Mary Ramsay, an epidemiologist at the Health Protection Agency (HPA), saying that 60,000 unvaccinated children started school this year. The HPA is an independent body that, among other things, advises the Government on protecting public health from infectious diseases.

Hasn’t the HPA had a change at the top? Yes, GlaxoSmithKline’s senior external comms manager David Daley has become HPA chief operating officer, reporting to director of comms Lis Biranne (PRWeek, 16 November). Back in August, the HPA put out a press release urging parents to book their children an MMR jab. At that time there were 480 confirmed cases of measles in the UK this year (against 756 cases during the whole of 2006 – the highest ever recorded).

So whose job is it to promote the MMR vaccine? The Department of Health comms team, but it seems to be running up against a perception issue. MMR has been the target of comms pushes on several recent occasions. However, despite the well-publicised research suggesting it is safe, parents in London appear particularly resistant to using it.

What is the background to this fear? In 1998 Dr Andrew Wakefield published research in The Lancet linking the MMR jab to bowel disorders and autism. His work has since been largely discredited, with the General Medical Council going so far as to put him up before a fitness-to-practice hearing. But the initial publicity around the research caused some parents to go for single vaccinations for their children – a process that takes much longer and has not been proved more effective.

But is measles really all that serious? Yes, it can cause meningitis, bronchitis, pneumonia and liver infection.

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