Home / Family Articles / Is the MMR vaccination safe?

Is the MMR vaccination safe?

MMR vaccination given to a baby

Written by:

MMR stands for measles, mumps and rubella: Three common, highly infectious conditions that can have serious, perhaps lethal consequences for anyone at any age. Anyone born before 1988 was expected to suffer one or more of these during their childhood as a matter of course, however in 1988 the MMR vaccination was introduced in the UK and the number of children affected by the three illnesses has plummeted. The immunisation is administered by one injection before the child’s first birthday and another between the ages of three and five, though it’s also available to adults born between 1970 and 1990; school leavers and young adults who haven’t had the vaccine are also advised to get it, as mumps is particularly prevalent among students and young people.

MMR vaccination scandal

Despite its obvious advantages, the MMR vaccine was not introduced without a few teething troubles:

Initially the NHS introduced MMR jabs using the Urabe mumps strain, and this was believed to have probably resulted in around 3 in every 1,000 cases developing febrile convulsions (fits). Moreover, a Japanese study linked the Urabe version of MMR with meningoencephalitis, prompting American and Canadian authorities to raise concerns.

The NHS replaced the Urabe version with the Jeryl Lynn mumps strain in 1992 when the former was deemed to represent an unacceptable risk of aseptic meningitis, and vaccination of the nation’s newborn and young continued uneventfully – until 1998.

At that point the vaccine came under some criticism from Dr Andrew Wakefield, who published a piece in The Lancet claiming a link between MMR and autism, MMR and bowel cancer and MMR and Crohn’s Disease.  Wakefield’s comments were enough to scare millions of parents at the time, and the aftermath of his remarks has taken well over a decade to wear off.

Working at the Royal Free Hospital in London, Dr Wakefield looked at twelve children who were suffering from developmental disorders. Of the parents and physicians of these children, eight claimed that the start of their child’s issues began after the MMR jab was given, and Wakefield continued to publish more papers claiming that the immunisation programme was unsafe.

The MMR scandal became the biggest science story of 2002, with full confidence in the vaccine falling from 59% to just 41%. In 2001 26% of the UK’s family doctors felt that the UK government had not disproved the link suggested by Wakefield sufficiently well, and instead of nine out of ten children being immunised, the figure went down to eight out of ten, though in some areas of the country a few as half of the eligible children were being given MMR jabs.

Amazingly, though, Dr Wakefield was found guilty of manipulating his studies and had received a sum of £55,000 from Legal Aid Board solicitors who were looking for evidence to use against vaccine manufacturers; furthermore, some of the litigants were parents of children who were suspected of being affected by the vaccine.

The deception was uncovered by Brian Deer, an investigative reported from The Sunday Times, who went on to chronicle the story in a full episode of Channel Four’s Dispatches programme. Broadcast in 2004, the documentary gave credence to the allegations pointed at Wakefield by alleging that he had applied for patents on a vaccine that would have been a competitor to MMR, and that he had seen test results from his own laboratory that contradicted the claims he was making.

Wakefield tried to sue Brian Deer but gave in and paid his legal costs, only for Deer to report in The Sunday Times in 2006 that Wakefield had been paid well over £400,000 prior to making his claims about the vaccine, by trial lawyers who wanted to prove that it was dangerous.

The Lancet retracted Wakefield’s original article and he was struck off the General Medical Council’s register – but in addition to that, subsequent studies have been carried out to prove that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and the three conditions it was alleged to have caused. MMR jabs are now are their highest rate in the UK ever, so don’t be alarmed.

When your baby is given the jab, it’s worth remembering that some adverse reactions can occur though they are rarely regarded as serious: Around 10% of children develop fever, tiredness and a rash after receiving the jab, so do keep an eye on them and follow up anything that looks unusual.

However, there are no proven serious side effects from the type of MMR jabs used in the UK –  just one scandal that wasted a lot of time and money in legal fees…

Happy baby





About Dani Lee

About Dani Lee

Dani enjoys turning her hand to writing when she gets a chance. Dani works full time and has 2 children, Sophie, 7 and Harry, 15 months and if anyone knows what it is to be a working parent, she does!

View all posts by