Health chiefs have warned parents to have their children immunised with the MMR jab after revealing a measles epidemic has hit the region.
Latest figures show that there have been 102 suspected cases of the potentially fatal disease since November 1 in the West Midlands.
Medics blamed the epidemic on parents’ reluctance to immunise their children with the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination because they fear it could lead to them being autistic.
The link between MMR and autism was first raised in a study by Dr Andrew Wakefield in 1998. But no research has ever proved a definite link.
The uptake of the MMR jab in children aged two and under in the West Midlands is 87.7 per cent - almost eight per cent lower than the national target of 95 per cent.
In a bid to boost the uptake, bosses at the Heart of Birmingham Teaching Primary Care Trust New have now placed MMR adverts on 21 black cabs in the city and are providing extra GP services until March 2009 to ensure children are being vaccinated.
For full protection against the three diseases two doses of MMR are needed – the first at 13 months and the second aged three years and four months old.
However, some children do not have the second dose, which could lead to them catching the diseases in later life.
Dr Jacky Chambers, Heat of Birmingham’s Director of Public Health, said: “Across the country and in parts of Birmingham there have been recent outbreaks of measles and we are taking urgent action to prevent an epidemic.”
She said the second dose can be given any time up until the age of 18.
Meanwhile, Dr Gillian Smith, regional immunisation lead for the Health Protection Agency in the West Midlands, said: “I can’t stress enough how vital it is that those people who haven’t yet been immunised against measles book their MMR jab.
“The complications which can occur as a result of having measles can be severe, sometimes long lasting, and on rare occasions can result in death.
“The safest way to avoid this is with two doses of the MMR vaccine.”
Despite the plea to vaccinate against measles, one Birmingham mother said she will not allow her grandchildren to be injected with the MMR jab.
Olivia Price helped set up the Vaccine Victims Support Group after her daughter Melissa was left severely disable following a whopping cough jab in the 1970s.
Melissa, now aged 33, has the mental age of a four year old, suffers from epilepsy and mobility problems and has to receive round the clock care.
Mrs Price, of Rednal, said her personal experience has made her wary of vaccinations and she would not condone her grandchildren Cameo, three, and Kayde, 21 months, having the MMR jab.
“I already have one person in my family who has been damaged by a vaccine,” she said. “It’s too close for comfort to risk allowing it to happen to another person I love.
“When I was a child we all got through measles. I know some people are left damaged by it, but they are being left damaged by the MMR vaccine too. It’s not expensive to treat a child with the disease but it is dear to give a vaccine.”
However, she said that she would not discourage people from having their children vaccinated with the jab.
“I regularly have people phoning me asking me what they should do,” added Mrs Price, who was awarded an MBE by the Queen in 2005 after her campaigning
won families the right to win up to £120,000 in compensation if their children had been left disabled through vaccinations.
“I would always say that a parent should research the subject well and weigh up the pros and cons.
“I think it’s vital doctors ensure a child’s immune system is good when they administer the vaccine. The jab is given too haphazardly without enough questions being asked, and in my experience that’s when complications occur.”
Meanwhile a pensioner, who lost his sight after contracting measles, labelled parents “irresponsible” for refusing to have their youngsters immunised.
Peter Tait, from Worcester, believes he would not have become blind at the age of five if he had been able to have the vaccine.
“I think every child ought to be vaccinated, if we can get rid of these three things all the better,” said the 78-year-old retired physiotherapist.
“The reason I am so strongly against the condemnation of the MMR vaccine is because the research claiming it was linked to autism is completely flawed and has never been proven.
“Doctors say MMR is safe and I believe them.
“I think parents who don’t have their children immunised are mad and irresponsible.”
• For more information on childhood immunisation speak to your GP or visit immunisation.nhs.uk or mmrthefacts.nhs.uk