Get the needle

20th April 2001 at 01:00
Rosalind Sharpe explains why it is important to vaccinate against diseases.

Mass vaccination, once seen as modern medicine's greatest weapon against diseases such as tuberculosis, has become surrounded by controversy.

This is partly a response to reports of adverse reactions (hotly contested by health officials), especially to the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR). But it may also be complacency: because immunisation programmes have worked, few of us come into contact with fatal cases of tetanus or diptheria, so we may not think we need to inject against them.

Either way, take-up rates for childhood immunisation have fallen and some doctors have warned that if the trend continues we could see new epidemics occur.

This question causes the greatest anxiety for parents. But where does it leave teachers, who constantly come in contact with infectious childhood afflictions?

According to the Communicable Diseases Surveillance Centre the answer depends on how old you are and where you grew up. If you were born in Britain, as a baby you were probably immunised against polio, tetanus, diptheria and whooping cough. If you were a pupil in the 1970s, you may also have been vaccinated against rubella (also known as German measles) and, if you were at school in the 1960s, you may have received a measles jab (or have had measles and acquired immunity that way).

As a teacher, the main worries are prbably measles and rubella. Young adults who did not catch measles as children, but are too old to have been part of the immunisation programmes are most susceptible to catching the illness. If you fall into this category and you would like to be protected, you can ask your doctor for an MMR shot. (There is no separate measles vaccination available in the UK). You can still have the injection even if you have had mumps or rubella.

Rubella is such a mild disease that people often don't realise they have had it, but it is dangerous if caught by women in the early stages of pregnancy, because their children may be born with serious abnormalities. Your GP can test for antibodies to determine whether you are already immune. The vaccination usually protects for life.

The same is true for tuberculosis. Diphtheria, tetanus and polio, however, all require boosters every 10 years and you should consider having one if you are travelling to a country where these diseases are common.

The NHS leaflet T6, available from travel agents and post offices, has advice for travellers about vaccination and malaria protection. The Hospital for Tropical Diseases runs helplines for travellers (50p a minute): phone 0839 337729. The Vaccination Bible by Lynne McTaggart, is a case against immunisation. It is published by What Doctors Don't Tell You, call 0208 9449 555, or you can contact The Informed Parent by calling 0208 861 1022

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