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MMR uptake has jumped by 0.9 per cent ­ the biggest increase for 18 months ­ as media coverage of the mumps epidemic drives home the benefits of vaccination.

In the three months from January to March, 81.7 per cent of children in the UK received one dose of MMR by 24 months of age. The figure is the highest for a year after three successive quarterly falls.

Dr Natasha Crowcroft, consultant in public health medicine at the Health Protection Agency, said: 'We're heading in the right direction but the MMR problem isn't cracked until we hit 95 per cent.'

She said media attention on the mumps epidemic had raised awareness of the importance of vaccination.

'Outbreaks are always good

for immunisation programmes.'

London saw the biggest rise in uptake of any region, a jump of 2.6 per cent, although its uptake of 70.5 per cent remains the lowest in the UK.

The HPA said the capital's catch-up campaign in primary school children could have contributed to the rise, by educating parents on the benefits of MMR.

Dr David Elliman, who is helping to co-ordinate the catch-up campaign in his role as consultant in community child health at St George's Hospital, London, said: 'The atmosphere is changing.'

GPs were cautiously optimistic over the new figures. Dr Rod Manton, a GP in Woodley, Cheshire, said the rise in coverage was small but significant and very positive. 'The reason is a lot of hard work.'

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