Vaccine ‘Blocked’ In Bid To Boost MMR in UK
By Tanya Thompson
The government has been accused of blocking imports of measles and mumps vaccines, sending prices soaring to force parents into using the controversial measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) triple jab.
Doctors in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London are now charging more than
Â£100 for a single measles or mumps vaccine because it is increasingly
difficult to get them in the UK.
In recent months, the government has cut supplies further,
restricting them to only 25 doses per day.
Dr Richard Halvorsen, a GP in central London who provides the single
vaccines for parents concerned about MMR, says the government will be
responsible for a measles epidemic unless it changes its policy.
He said: “The government is blocking the amount coming in. Some
believe they are putting pressure on importers and producers not to sell
to people in this country. They control the amount coming in to make it more
difficult for us to get the single vaccines.”
Concern that the MMR vaccine could be linked to autism and bowel
disease in children has sent immunisation levels plummeting.
Campaigners who want the single jabs to be made available on the NHS
believe the triple vaccine is too much for a baby’s fragile immune system
to cope with in one shot.
Stringent Department of Health rules state parents can only have single vaccines if they apply for a private prescription. Suppliers must go to a licensed importer on a named patient basis, resulting in further bureaucracy and cost. Doctors say they are struggling to meet demand, which has increased prices, and many parents are prepared to pay Â£300 or more for a course of injections.
The vaccines are imported from Switzerland, France, Germany and the
United States, but the shortage has left a backlog of children waiting up
to six months. The concern for parents and health officials is that children
could get infected in the meantime.
“Everyone I know has had trouble getting the single mumps vaccine
and it’s also difficult to get measles,” added Dr Halvorsen. “I charge Â£100 a
vaccine, which sounds astronomical but my overheads are huge. It’s so
bureaucratic. Getting hold of the single vaccines is a nightmare.”
Yohani De Silva, of Direct Remedies, which also sells single vaccines, said: “We’re worried about supplies because the government has introduced a new rule where you’re only allowed 25 doses a day. Previously you could get as many as you liked. When we ask the Department of Health why we can’t get the vaccines they refuse to comment.”
Paul Shattock, the director of the autism research unit at the University of Sunderland, said: “This is a political decision to force people to get MMR.” But a spokesman for the Department of Health said: “We categorically reject that we’re restricting the single vaccines.
“The mumps vaccine is getting scarce because the main manufacturer
in the US has halted production. All the issues surrounding manufacturers
tying up the single vaccines is a matter for them.”
Although MMR is the most controversial vaccine in the UK, autism
campaigners in the US believe the source could be the diphtheria, tetanus
and pertussis (DTwP ) jab given three times to babies by 16 weeks.
The UK still uses the low-cost DTwP brand, which deposits 25
micrograms of ethyl mercury into a child.
US health authorities have said the substance has a “biologically
plausible” link to autism and DTwP has been ordered out of medicine in the
US, but remains the recommended injection in the UK.