Openness is key to winning the war over MMR

March 10, 2005

Openness and communication between experts and the public is key to winning the war over MMR, says an expert in this week's BMJ.

In 1998, MMR vaccinations in the United Kingdom reached 92% of its targets. Yet by 2002, after claims of a possible relation between MMR and autism, the United Kingdom lost considerable ground. One of the lowest levels of coverage of MMR is now found in London, at around 75%.

Parents who refused MMR vaccination for their children were not necessarily irrational, writes Professor Paul Bellaby. The high level of coverage achieved before that point had so far reduced the risk of contracting the diseases that parents began to see the vaccine itself as more of a threat to their children.

He believes that the explanation for the reversal lies not with Wakefield or even with parents who took his claims seriously, but with a failure of leadership by health professionals, lack of support for them from policy makers (including the prime minister), and mischief made by journalists.

The solution is not to affect distain for the bearers of false news but develop two-way communication about risk between experts and the public as equals, he says. If the United Kingdom has all but lost the battle for MMR, the war itself can still be won by openness.


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