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Pneumococcal vaccine is delayed by MMR hysteria

Introduction of a pneumococcal vaccine into the UK's routine childhood immunisation schedule may have been delayed because of public hysteria over MMR, a Government vaccines adviser has warned.

Professor Brent Taylor, a member of the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation and a consultant in paediatrics at the Royal Free Hospital, said he suspected the vaccine would have been introduced but for adverse publicity over MMR.

He said it was now much more likely the hepatitis B vaccine would be brought in first.

This delay conflicts with a statement made by the Government's head of immunisation policy, Dr David Salisbury, in Pulse in September. Dr Salisbury said the pneumococcal vaccine was 'top of the list' for addition to the childhood schedule and had 'proved effective'.

Professor Taylor claimed the effectiveness of the pneumococcal vaccine was still uncertain and the committee was monitoring its performance in the US. He suggested the hepatitis B vaccine might also be some way off as it also had to be proved cost-effective.

Dr George Kassianos, RCGP vaccination spokesperson and a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, said: 'We need to introduce this vaccine but there seems to be reluctance to introduce another childhood vaccine because of MMR.'

Prevenar, the 7-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide conjugate vaccine from Wyeth, is still being reviewed as a potential addition to the UK childhood immunisation programme.

It is currently recommended only for the at-risk under-twos in the UK.

Latest figures have cast further doubt on the introduction of Prevenar. A report from the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health showed the vaccine provides only 60 per cent coverage against infection.

Dr Stuart Clarke, director of the Scottish Meningococcus and Pneumococcus Reference Laboratory in Glasgow who led the study, said the figure seemed low because it looked at the whole population ­ not just the under-twos.

Further age-group analysis would give a clearer indication of the vaccine's efficacy, with the coverage probably being much higher, he said.

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