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This damaging MMR debate needs to end

There's been a storm out there in blog land in the last few days whose ferocity has matched any that has swept the country during this chill winter. And at its heart it is an all too familar subject. MMR.

There's been a storm out there in blog land in the last few days whose ferocity has matched any that has swept the country during this chill winter. And at its heart it is an all too familar subject. MMR.

The backdrop to this of course is the steepling number of measles cases in the UK, the predictable outcome of tens of thousands of children going unvaccinated in the decade since Andrew Wakefield's hugely damaging allegations of a link between MMR and autism.

The most recent figures show a 36% increase in reported measles cases in the past year.

All of this is prime fodder for daytime radio phone-ins, where the worried, the ignorant and the belligerent get to sound off with the encouragement of the presenter for the entertainment of listeners. And it's one such phone-in hosted by Jeni Barnett on LBC on January 7 that has kicked things off.

Many, many others have written at length about this phone in and its aftermath so I'll not go into detail. For the full picture, read Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog. Ben brought Jeni Barnett's show to wider attention by hosting a clip of this monumentally ill-informed show on his blog.

He has subsequently been threatened with legal action for breach of copyright. (Which, incidentally, is quite a demonstratation of a lack of confidence in your material). A full transcript of the show is available here, if you can bring yourself to read it.

Anyway, Ben writes: "This is not about LBC or Jeni Barnett in general, this is about one perfect, instructive, illustrative example of a whole genre of irresponsible journalism that drove the media's anti-vaccine campaign for ten solid years, with serious consequences for public health."

And this is what's at the heart of the matter. If you do a search on MMR on this website, you will see countless articles based on sound research showing that MMR is safe, is not in any way linked to autism, is not in any way linked to bowel disorders.

You will also see very many mentions of the serious health risks to children from going unvaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella. NHS Blog Doctor and The Jobbing Doctor have written movingly on their experiences dealing with children left brain damaged by measles.

The argument against the safety of the MMR vaccine has been crushed by the weight of evidence. The contentions of the anti-MMR lobby are equivalent to arguing that smoking does not increase your risk of lung cancer. Yet, by putting these unfounded views on air and failing to challenge them rigorously on the basis of this evidence, media outlets such as LBC ensure unwarranted concerns remain in parents' minds when their child is due to have their immunisation.

There are always two sides to a debate. But that does not mean they're of equal weight and deserving of equal time. And it's about time they stopped receiving equal treatment.

Hopefully, in an effort to finish on a bright note, this whole sorry episode and the storm of publicity it has triggered - not to mention some of the laughable pronouncements of Jeni Barnett - will mean producers, presenters and editors will be more responsible in how they handle this subject in future for fear they might 'do a Jeni'.

MMR - sceptics claims have been crushed by the weight of evidence, so lets stop giving credence to their views Pulse team blog

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