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Leeds project aims to boost parents’ confidence in MMR choices as measles rates rise

With several hundred thousand unvaccinated children across the UK, health protection experts are hoping that new research at the University of Leeds will give parents better information about the MMR vaccine and lead to an increase in immunisation.

The latest figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) show that cases of measles in London reached a new peak in May and a teenage boy from West Yorkshire became the first person in the UK to die from measles for two years. Last year there was a record 971 reported cases of measles – a rise of 30% on the previous year - making MMR an urgent priority for the medical profession.

A collaboration between health experts at Leeds and Sydney universities is the fourth MMR research project undertaken by the School of Healthcare after parents confidence was knocked following controversy over the safety of the triple vaccine.

Previous research by the Leeds team showed that parents feel isolated when making their decision. The new project will use interactive software developed at Sydney University to help identify parents’ concerns and to provide the information needed to answer their questions on the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

Dr Martin Schweiger, consultant in communicable disease control at the West Yorkshire Health Protection Unit, said:” Mumps, measles and rubella are all serious diseases and become more so the older you get. If an unvaccinated pregnant woman gets rubella, then a damaged child may be the future price the family will pay for getting this wrong now.

“Health professionals need to have credible and appropriate information to give to those parents about to make a decision about immunising their children.”

Simon Balmer, Head of Health Protection for the Leeds Primary Care Trust, who are also supporting the research project, said: "With the right information we believe that most parents will choose to vaccinate their children against these serious illnesses."

Dr Cath Jackson, a member of the research team led by Professor Francine Cheater, said: “We will be testing the Australian software alongside more traditional materials to find out the best way of giving parents the right support and information they need to make a decision about MMR.

“Parents criticise the literature and information currently available. They don’t feel confident about saying yes to the vaccine when they don’t know enough.”

Dr Jackson explained: “Our previous research shows that many parents were unconvinced that the MMR vaccine is safe and 62% did not consider that their MMR decision was informed. However, there was little opportunity to talk about reaching a decision because GPs and nurses simply don’t have the time. We found that some parents feel pressured into making an instant decision about MMR with health professionals assuming they will vaccinate their children.”

This new project, funded with £242,252 by the National Institute for Health Research, will see researchers at the University of Leeds recruit hundreds of new parents about to make their first decision on vaccinating their children. They will test out different ways of helping parents make their MMR choices

Leeds Primary Care Trust is helping to recruit more than 500 first time parents. Simon Balmer explained: “We are extremely concerned that the incidence of measles has risen to high levels because MMR vaccination rates have fallen. Therefore we welcome this chance to work with the University of Leeds to enable parents to make informed decisions.”

Sandy Welsh | alfa
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