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Yvette Cooper: The latest figures from the PHLS show that there was a dip in the level of MMR uptake among 16-month-olds between December and March. Interestingly, however, uptake in that age group showed an increase in April. The figures are available on the PHLS website.
It is important that we continue to respond to people's concerns about MMR. That is why we have sent out new and substantial parent packs to GP surgeries and to NHS Direct. They provide more extensive information to respond to parents' queries and questions, and give more information about scientific research.
The packs include statements from various independent bodies, because, in matters such as this, we must not rely solely on advice from the Department's experts. We need to turn to independent bodies such as the World Health Organisation, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of General Practitioners and many other organisations in this country and around the world. They have all advised us that MMR is the safest way to immunise children against what are very serious diseases. It is important to tell people the full facts about MMR, including the views of all the independent experts, and the single jabs. They have a right to have all the information.
Vaccination policy is difficult, especially when the immunisation programme has been successful in largely eradicating a disease. Many younger people have no experience of the diseases that we are talking about, so the huge impact of the immunisation programme can be underestimated. That applies to many programmes across the board.
Dr. Gibson: Will the Minister say whether there has been any increase in measles outbreaks in this country since the controversy arose? She gave me the figures for the triple MMR uptake, but is there any evidence in relation to a measles epidemic?
Yvette Cooper: There has not been a measles epidemic in this country, although there have been isolated outbreaks in various areas. The experience in Ireland is that isolated outbreaks can occur, and we need to take them seriously. The PHLS said today that the majority of parents are still having their children immunised with the MMR vaccine, but we must continue to take the issue extremely seriously and ensure that parents get the information they need.
My hon. Friend spoke about looking to the future, whether in the areas of new technology, the human genome project or research. He is right that there are all kinds of exciting possibilities, with different technology
The experience of the meningitis C vaccine has been a powerful testimony to the capacity of the NHS in particular to respond rapidly to a new vaccine that is proven to be effective and have a big impact. This country was one of the first to introduce a meningitis C programme right across the childhood population. That is an immense tribute to those working in the NHS, in both primary care and schools. It is a testimony to the partnerships that the NHS has with the various companies involved and its capacity to deliver immunisation programmes. This is not simply a research or a technology issue: it is also a health service issue because, ultimately, immunisation programmes have to be delivered.
My hon. Friend has raised a series of important points. I congratulate him again on securing this debate. This is an area in which I hope we will see further positive developments. We have had much to be thankful for, not simply over the past few years but over the past 40, 50 or 60 years.