Measles or Autism Is Not a Choice, Says Mum Whose Son Is Autistic; Experts Have Said That the Measles Epidemic in Wales Has Been Caused in Part by Fears Prompted by Now Discredited Research Which Linked the MMR Vaccine to Autism. Health Correspondent Julia McWatt Spoke to One Mother about Why She Is Encouraging Parents to Let Their Children Have the Vaccine

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Byline: Julia McWatt

MARTINE O'Callaghan always knew that there was something different about her son Cledwyn.

At two years old, Cledwyn, who is now five, was diagnosed as being severely autistic, and after having gone back and forth to physiotherapy and occupations therapy, Martine says it was "very obvious" that her son had autism.

Following the diagnosis, Martine, 37, from Fairwater in Cardiff, became a full-time carer for Cledwyn, who is her only child, but says she has found plenty of support from schools and healthcare professionals.

She said: "He was diagnosed at two years of age, but to us it had been obvious he was autistic.

We have had some great support and his school has been wonderful.

"He is hard work but he is an absolute joy to be around. On a day-to-day-basis most people are quite sympathetic and many people want to know more about the condition. I find that once people realise that Cledwyn is not just being a naughty boy they are sympathetic."

But she says there is still a perception that autism should be feared and she says the recent measles epidemic and the concerns surrounding the MMR injection has fuelled that fear.

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a piece of research that linked the MMR vaccine to autism, prompting many parents to choose not to have their children vaccinated against the potentially fatal disease.

And although the research has since been strongly discredited, there is still a widespread fear about the safety of the vaccine.

The measles epidemic, which has reached 1,061 to become one of the biggest in the UK since the introduction of MMR in 1988, is believed to have been caused by this fear.

Since the start of the outbreak, which is centred on the Swansea region, health officials have been desperately reassuring parents that the vaccine is safe.

School vaccination programmes are continuing across the country as health officials try to target the some 40,000 unvaccinated children in the at-risk age group of 10 to 18.

More than 33,000 noneasily routine vaccinations have been given across Wales during the outbreak, but only just over 8,000 of these were in that age group.

Dr Marion Lyons, director of health protection for Public Health Wales, said: "Our message is clear - the MMR vaccine is safe and it works, and there is no reason why children not vaccinated in the late 1990s because of fears about the safety of the vaccine should not be immunised now.

"While not enough 10 to 18-year-olds in particular are vaccinated, this outbreak can spread anywhere in Wales. Therefore we urge young people themselves and the parents of children, to take up opportunities to receive the MMR vaccine as a matter of urgency.

"Those not vaccinated are highly likely to catch measles, which is highly contagious. It is just a matter of time before a child is left with serious and permanent complications such as eye disorders, deafness or brain damage, or dies.

"The MMR vaccine is recommended by the World Health Organisation, UK Department of Health and Public Health Wales as the most effective and safe way to protect children against measles."

And Martine says she has no doubt whatsoever that the MMR vaccine is safe and is urging parents not to be frightened. …