Immunisation

Parents' concerns about MMR

In 1998, research by Wakefield et al suggested a possible link between the MMR vaccine, inflammatory bowel disease and autism. Sensational media reporting of these findings led to concerns amongst parents about whether they should give their child the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. Unsure of the right decision to make, several parents choose not to immunise their children, which resulted in a significant increase in the number of cases of measles and mumps.

Since 1998, the research findings by Wakefield et al have been discredited by many other scientific studies, which have produced good scientific evidence to suggest there is not a link between MMR, inflammatory bowel disease and autism. As a consequence, some parents we interviewed had few concerns about giving their child MMR.

The overwhelming majority of parents believe in immunisation for their children. We have however included here the views of a few parents who do not believe immunisation is right for their own child based on their personal beliefs. Their views represent a small proportion of the population.

Initial concerns did still exist amongst many parents when making their decisions about their child's MMR, but after gathering information and weighing up the risks they felt reassured enough to go ahead with it. Some of these parents found it very difficult to make a decision and were worried for a long time before they made a final decision. 

It is normal for parents to be concerned about their children's health and it's important for them to find reliable scientific evidence on which to base their decisions and there is now a mass of this information available.  

A few parents did not feel that they were able to find enough reassurance and decided that MMR was not the right decision for their child and chose single vaccines or not to immunise (see 'Deciding not to give my child MMR').

Some parents who had initially been concerned that after having MMR, their child might develop inflammatory bowel disease or autism had felt reassured after learning more about MMR and how autism develops, for example that MMR has been used in the USA since the early 1970s and reported serious reactions have been very rare (see 'Deciding to give my child MMR').

A few parents had been concerned that their child's immune system was already compromised in some way and that MMR may make the situation worse, for example if their child was premature, or already had allergies or bowel problems. After getting advice from health professionals, these parents felt reassured enough to give their child MMR. 

Every parent should have access to a trained health professional to chat about their concerns, the risks of catching the diseases and the benefits and potential risks of immunisation for their own child, and the population in general. In addition to their GP, health visitor or practice nurse, there is also an immunisation advisor in each local health protection unit, whom parents can talk to about their child's immunisations. 

A few parents were worried about whether they should give their child MMR because he/she had an egg allergy. There is no evidence to suggest that children with egg allergies should not be given MMR and it can be given in a hospital setting if parents are concerned.

Most parents who had given their child the MMR pre-school booster, had less concern making a decision, largely because their child had not had a reaction to the first dose of MMR. 

A very small number of parents were anxious that the previous reactions that their other children had, which they personally believed were triggered by MMR, might occur again. Research studies since 1998 have produced good scientific evidence to suggest there is not a link between MMR, autism and inflammatory bowel disease.

The safety of the vaccines was a concern for some parents. A few were worried about the information available on the long-term effects of the MMR vaccine. One mother who had these concerns had found it reassuring to learn that the same MMR vaccine used in the UK had been used in the USA since the early 1970s, and of the millions of children given MMR, accounts of reported adverse reactions was rare.

A few of these parents had concerns about the ingredients of the vaccines and that live vaccines were given which the occasional parent personally believed were too much for a child's body to cope with. There has been no scientific evidence to suggest this is the case. The mumps, measles and rubella vaccines contain strains of the virus that has been weakened (attenuated) so that it will stimulate an immune response to natural measles, mumps and rubella viruses but will only produce very mild symptoms of these diseases, if any at all.

Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated October 2015.

 

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