With the numbers of measles cases in the UK at a 20-year high, the Department of Health (DH) is spending £400,000 on external agency support. It has called in Trimedia to promote MMR jabs and deal with parental concerns that the MMR vaccine is linked to autism and Crohn’s disease.
A DH spokesperson confirmed: ‘We are working on a public relations campaign that reinforces the importance of parents protecting their children against serious diseases such as measles. The campaign’s focus is on increasing MMR vaccine coverage.’
But the campaign may prove to be controversial. Jackie Fletcher, national co-ordinator of parent support group JABS, said the money would be better spent on providing alternative single vaccines on the NHS: ‘Instead of spending it on a PR exercise, they should be spending it on a choice for parents.’
Despite mounting evidence discrediting the autism link, many parents continue to shun MMR jabs. A total of 1,370 cases of measles were confirmed in England and Wales in 2008, compared with 56 in 1998. In 2006, a 13-year-old boy became the first person in the UK in 14 years to die from measles.
Prominent anti-MMR campaigners include Jenny McCarthy, the former Playboy model, who blames MMR for her son’s autistic condition.
Trimedia has been briefed to increase vaccine uptake rates, targeting parents of children aged between 13 months and 18 years who have not yet had the vaccination. The DH would not reveal how the campaign would deal with the alleged link between MMR and autism, claiming details had not yet been finalised.
February 2009 The Sunday Times reports Dr Wakefield changed results in his 1998 research paper.
April 2006 13-year-old boy dies of measles, the first in the UK to do so in 14 years.
January 2001 Newspaper campaigns back Wakefield’s call for single vaccines.
February 1998 Doctor Andrew Wakefield claims a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.