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Immunisation

Deciding not to give my child MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)

The UK Immunisation schedule recommends that children be given two doses of the MMR vaccine, the first at 12 months of age, and the second at 3-5 years of age. For more information see ‘What is immunisation?’ and ‘Why do we immunise?’.

Immunisation of children is not compulsory in the UK, as it is in some other countries, so parents choose whether or not to have their child immunised. 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. 

It is absolutely right and normal that parents are concerned about the optimal health of their children but it is important that parents seek reliable scientific evidence on which to base their decisions and there is now a mass of this information available (see Resources & Information section' Medical Research on MMR, Autism and bowel diseases).

Every parent should have access to a trained health professional to chat about the risks of catching the diseases and about 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. 

Although the weight of scientific evidence shows that MMR is safe, some parents continue to have initial concerns about the risk to their child and making the decision whether or not to give their child MMR is a difficult one. The majority of parents do decide to immunise their children with MMR. .

A small number of parents that we interviewed had either decided not to immunise their child at all against measles, mumps and rubella or had chosen to have them immunised using single vaccines. Here, they explain their personal reasons for their decision.

They had concerns about possible reactions from the vaccine
Parents who decided not to give their child MMR were concerned that the vaccine might cause a reaction in their child. Most children who have the MMR vaccine do not have any problems with it, or if reactions do occur they are usually mild. One couple whose children were lactose intolerant held a personal belief that, because of their health problems, their children would be at risk of a reaction if they had the MMR or the single vaccines.

 

They personally believed their son's lactose intolerance problems would put him at greater risk...

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There are known side-effects to all vaccinations. That's a stated fact and that's, you know, normally in the literature that should accompany any vaccination. So I think what we decided was that knowing the bowel problems our son had, had we felt that, that was really a contraindication for him having certainly the triple jab. But also after further research we decided that even the single measles jab would be too dangerous, based on his condition. And that was why we decided not to vaccinate any further at all. On the basis that we do believe that there are some children who should not have any vaccinations at all. For many it, it is fine, it is safe. We have a lot of friends who've come to me for advice on vaccination and I have said they have to make that choice themselves based on how well they feel their child is and whether, you know, they are able to, to take those vaccinations. So I'm certainly not dead set against vaccinations. I just think that parents should have all the information, know that there are actually side-effects that can come from any vaccination, and obviously to make sure that if they are vaccinating their child that the child is in the best health state to, to take that vaccination. 
 
 

Tony Blair's failure to answer questions about his own son's vaccines influenced her decision to...

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The reason we decided to go for individual is one, isn't so much from the reports so much on television about how that doctor was supposedly discredited for his decisions or for the points he'd made and all the rest of it was down to the fact, this is, might sound really silly, basically the simple question, when Tony Blair was asked, 'What's yours?' he didn't answer. That's really stupid probably but really simple at the same time. If there is nothing wrong, what is wrong with his answering it? So based on, with some other information that we read up and also speaking to friends who were doctors, or friends of friends that had doctors as friends, we've just thought, 'No. We're going to go for the individual' when we had to come to it.

 

Her concerns about what reaction her son might have from MMR was stopping her from taking him to...

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I'm confused. My main concern is I don't know what to think. I've done quite a lot of reading about it over the last three years since my son was born. Before my son was born I wasn't really that involved. I have a relative who is, who's a GP who is very pro the vaccination as, as a social responsibility. She feels it's my responsibility to have my son vaccinated although she doesn't pressurise me and I have a sister who is at the opposite end. She has MS and she's very into finding out about her own condition. And when I had my son she was very interested in finding out about vaccinations and especially the MMR. She made me think about what's been happening recently.  

Half, well not half of me, a little bit of me thinks, 'Well if he does get something mildly then that's, that's better than a vaccination.' I had mumps and measles when I was a kid. The MMR wasn't around, wasn't around when I was, when I was young. I don't really understand now why it seems to be more, more frightening, a frightening illness than it used to be. I don't know whether its more potent, whether there are stronger strains of measles coming in to the country from other countries. I'm not sure of the facts but it certainly seems when I was a child that everyone I know had measles and most of us were fine although my cousin went deaf in one ear as a result of his measles. But most of us were fine with it but because of the worries are being raised about it, you know you think well maybe my son will be the one child that gets measles and then ends up badly brain damaged and it's not a risk I'm going to take. 

But I, he has a vitamin tablet and that's all. And I did read somewhere that vitamin A is meant to be quite a good way of fighting certain illnesses. I think in 'What Doctors Don't Tell You' they gave a list of alternative preventatives and one of that, one of those was a vitamin, a high vitamin A dose. He eats a healthy diet and he has a vitamin tablet every morning so that's all I do [laugh].

Although numerous research studies since 1988, conducted in different countries have produced good scientific evidence to suggest there is not a link between MMR, autism and bowel disease, a very small number of parents were anxious that previous reactions that their older children had, which they personally believed were triggered by MMR, might occur with their younger children. (See 'Severe and disputed reactions to MMR').  

 

They had a personal belief that MMR triggered autism in their older son and they decided not to...

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Mother' If the research is properly read, it becomes very apparent that these various researchers, including the very much maligned gastroenterologist, who is in everybody's mind, he doesn't say, that's it affects every child. He's actually talking about a subset. He's talking about a small group. But if we could get past all this contention to the point where they can say, 'Right, well, let's identify these children so they are no longer at risk, take them out of the loop'. Look at a different way of addressing these problems. But until they get past that and treat parents with respect, as individuals who've got minds and thought process and the ability to reason. And until they start listening to researchers and accept that the, they're not actually trying to cause a blanket scare' they're not trying to, then we know, we're not going to get past this. 

And as long as this situation stays in place, our youngest baby, our baby will not be vaccinated, at all, and we will regard all medicines with extreme circumspection. We're actually having another baby and that baby won't be vaccinated and the same will hold true. And we're looking at every other way we can to protect our two youngest children because we've, this is not a decision we've taken lightly. And I would want to make that absolutely plain to anybody whose looking on this on website. It's not an easy decision and neither you nor I, would say it's an easy'

Father' No, well due to the MMR, we, we took seven years to find out what we believe is the truth and that's based on what we're doing now, and that's no vaccinations whatsoever.

They had concerns about the safety of the vaccine
The combined MMR has been used in the UK since 1988 and in the USA since the early 1970s. (See 'Deciding to give my child MMR'.) However some parents were concerned that the long-term effects of the combined MMR vaccine were not known. Other reasons given for deciding not to go ahead with MMR were concern about the ingredients of the vaccines and that live vaccines were used and that these would be too much for a child's body to cope with. There has been no scientific evidence to suggest this is the case. The viruses in a live vaccine have been weakened to give immunity with no, or very mild symptoms.

 

Her concerns that live vaccines were given with MMR, influenced her decision not to give her...

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And some of the other ingredients seem to be an unlikely, candidates to be in such, in something that you're going to put into your body. Also I just personally feel that such a small child has a very weak and perhaps undeveloped immune system, and I just feel that it's very difficult to bombard it with so many diseases if you like all in one time. And certainly with the MMR when they're all live vaccines I just find it, you know, I just personally feel that it's a lot for a small body to actually fight and to cope with.

They believed that immunity from natural infection is better than from immunisation
A very small number of parents personally believed that immunity derived from actually having the disease was more effective than the immunity obtained from vaccines. These beliefs applied to all immunisations, not just to MMR. No immunisation is 100% effective but it does offer a high level of immunity from infectious diseases. Gaining immunity from actually having the disease involves the risk of a child developing a complication.

How parents protect their child from these diseases
Parents who decided against letting their child have MMR stressed that deciding not to immunise was not an easy decision to make, and not one they had taken lightly. Some of them did say that they were continually reassessing their decision when any changes were introduced to the immunisation programme and that they might immunise when their children were older. A very small number of these parents gave their children a daily Vitamin A supplement in the belief that it would strengthen their immune system should they catch any of the diseases. While it is true that a child with an underlying health condition is more likely to have complications and/or die from measles, healthy children can be very ill too. Allowing them to catch the diseases means that they run the risk of complications.

Feelings now about decision made
Parents who decided that their child should not have MMR or that they should be given single vaccines said they were generally happy with the decision they had made. Some of these parents were certain they had made the right decision for their child. A couple of parents were considering giving a single rubella vaccine to their daughters to protect them as they reached puberty. A single rubella vaccine is not currently available on the NHS.

The rubella part of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is given to a young child rather than teenage girls, so that if a child caught the disease they can't pass it on to pregnant women. Once it became clear that immunisation at an early age would protect for many years, it was decided to immunise both girls and boys in order to stop the spread of rubella in children, and so gain 'herd immunity'.

 

They are personally certain that not giving MMR to their lactose intolerant children was the...

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So for us we decided that with the bowel as it was it was certainly too dangerous to have the MMR at that time and, we have not had single vaccines either. Subsequent things that have happened which, with certain reactions to foodstuffs, colourants etcetera have actually just reaffirmed that decision for us. We have absolutely no doubt in our minds that if he had, had the single measles vaccine that we would have seen complications from it. I have no doubt in my mind at all that would have been the case.
 
 

They are comfortable with the decision they made to give their daughter single measles, mumps and...

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We're fine about it. We don't have, we feel like there's some concern taken out in the sense that we don't have to worry about any side-effects. But then again we don't know. We've just based our decision on the fact, 'Well, it's gone on for this many years and, single, and that's just the way we prefer to stay with it'. She wasn't distressed. I think we, if, we would have been, if she, after the first immunisation if she'd been really distressed then we might be thinking, 'Oh, my God, maybe we should have gone for the 3-in-1, then she doesn't have to go through this again'. But she hasn't been concerned at all about what's going on. So, no, we've been comfortable with it. She, we were told after the first immunisation also actually that she might have a reaction to it. That was a surprise. And they said, you know, 'Within seven days, you know, if she's okay, within, you know, after seven days, she'll be fine'. But again you always kind of wonder as a parent, 'Well, they say seven days but, hey, my daughter's, obviously each case is different, she could be ten days'. So, you know, for a couple of, you know, for almost two weeks you're looking at her thinking, 'Is she okay? Has she got a temperature? Is she, you know, is she swelling or anything like that'.  

Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated July 2013

 

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