It's been more than a year since the medical journal Lancet retracted Dr. Andrew Wakefield's thoroughly discredited study that cast doubts on the safety of childhood vaccinations, childhood disease prevention experts in Wales still find themselves having to remind and cajole parents to make sure their children stick to their shots schedule. The results of this vaccination laxity has been, unfortunately, all but academic.
Wales healthcare agencies have confirmed 37 cases of measles this year alone, with every instance of the disease found so far in children who hadn't had their full course of MMR vaccinations. Sixteen additional suspected cases of measles are still under investigation. Another disease which is preventable via vaccination but is now making a comeback is whooping cough. Over one hundred cases were suspected in Wales last year, with 67 confirmed by laboratory tests. Like measles, most of these were linked to kids who didn't get their shots. That is more than triple the number of incidents suspected in 2010.
Dr Richard Roberts, head of the vaccine preventable disease programme at Public Health Wales, said: "It has been well publicised this year that we have seen a large outbreak of measles in North Wales affecting more than 40 children, as well as increasing numbers of very young children with whooping cough.
"With numerous European countries reporting outbreaks this year, there is a very real risk to children in Wales who are not immunized.
The MMR vaccine is safe and effective and protects against mumps and rubella as well as measles. Although the first dose should be given just after one year of age and the second before a child starts school, it is never too late to catch up."
Dr. Roberts explained that over the previous decades, the Public Health Wales campaign had hoped that thanks to children's shots, both measles and whooping cough were on their ways to being completely eradicated in Europe and the UK, much like polio which is considered completely gone thanks to an aggressive vaccination campaign. In addition to those disease, children who complete their immunization program should also be protected against such childhood killers as diphtheria, tetanus, meningitis C and others. Girls are also routinely offered the new three-dose HPV vaccine, to prevent the most common types of cervical cancer, though those shots aren't required.
The latest figures show 88% of five-year-olds in Wales had received two doses of MMR at the end of 2011 – one of the highest rates since Andrew Wakefield suggested the jab was linked to autism and bowel disease. But this still falls short of the 95% target. In North Wales take-up ranges from 87.7% to 92.1%.
This decline in vaccination rates isn't just restricted to Europe. Late last year, an Associated Press report found that an increasing number of U.S. parents are likewise refusing to immunize their children.
An increasing number of parents are opting out of school shots for their children, with more than one in 20 kindergarten children in public schools not getting the full vaccination required for attendance, writes the Associated Press.
With more vaccine exemptions being sought, health officials worried about outbreaks of diseases that would normally be under control.