14/08/2014 12:48 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

How Other Parents' Decision Not To Vaccinate Gave My Baby Measles

How other parents' decisions gave my child measles at eight months old

If you have a child aged between about 10 and 13, you will no doubt have agonised over whether or not to give your child the MMR vaccination.

Your then-baby would have been due to have his or her jabs at the height of the controversy over the jab, fuelled by now discredited research by Dr Andrew Wakefield apparently linking the jab to autism.

You'll have read the newspaper reports, watched the news, maybe done your own internet research, perhaps talked to your doctor and to other parents. You'd probably have weighed up the perceived risks of MMR against the risks of the disease measles, mumps or rubella, and then you'd have decided whether or not to take your child for his or her vaccination.

My son Toby was eight months old at the time. Wanting to be prepared, I read the reports and followed the news of the vaccination avidly. I gradually came to the conclusion that he would have the jab as soon as he was old enough – one year old – so that he would be protected against these potentially dangerous diseases.

And then before he was old enough to be vaccinated, he caught measles. Toby was mainly at home with me at the time so I'm pretty sure he caught it at the crèche at the gym. It was full of educated, middle-class mummies just like me - but at least one had seemingly been swept along by the media furore, panicked, and left their child unprotected.

Of course, at first I didn't realise Toby had measles. As far as I knew, measles was an old-fashioned illness as good as obsolete, like polio or TB. Toby was floppy, had a high temperature and a weird-looking rash.

I managed to get an emergency doctor's appointment, and sitting in the waiting room, a doctor who caught sight of 'the baby with the rash' insisted on seeing him straight away, wanting him out of the waiting room where he was potentially infecting other people.

She examined his rash and looked at his eyes and in his mouth. "You've been very unlucky – it looks like it's measles," she said.


In 2003 there were only 237 reported cases of measles in the whole country. Toby had indeed been very unlucky. Too young for the MMR vaccination, he had contracted this horrible and unnecessary disease because of someone else's misinformed decision not to vaccinate their child.


The doctor took a swab of the inside of Toby's cheek to send to a lab to confirm his diagnosis and asked me if she'd mind if she called another, younger doctor in from another room to have a look at him, explaining "she probably won't have seen a case of measles before."

While Toby was extremely unlucky to contract measles, he was also one of the lucky ones in that he didn't turn out to be one of the one in 10 children who require hospital treatment for terrible complications such as pneumonia or brain damage.

He had 10 horrible days of being ill, and then thankfully, he recovered.

If Toby had got measles because I had decided not to have him vaccinated, I imagine I would have felt guilty. As it was, apart from feeling sorry for him, I simply felt angry. Some other, anonymous parent had made a decision, and because of that, my baby had had to suffer. It wasn't fair.

My heart sinks when I see the latest news reports about today's growing measles epidemic. Most of the victims this time are teenagers whose parents made a bad decision on their behalf when they were babies.

It is heartening at least to see that people are now queuing for the MMR jab, but I worry about those who are too young, or too sick (for example, people undergoing chemotherapy cannot have the MMR jab), to be protected.

"A large part of the problem is that most parents have not seen the complications you can get from measles – pneumonia, convulsions, encephalitis. It can kill. It is something which needs to be taken seriously," says Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and clinical consultant to

"Others say they will rely on other children being vaccinated. For 'herd immunity' you need a vaccination rate of around 95% - sadly we are not quite there yet.

"Yes, the majority of children will get over these diseases without complications, but some won't. Some parents are worried they are going to harm their child by giving them a vaccination. What they need to realise is that they are much more likely to harm their child by not giving them this vaccination."

Back in 2003/4, as few as one in eight children had the MMR vaccine – today the figure is more than nine in 10 (although still lower in London, where we lived when Toby caught measles.) It's better, but it could be higher.

As well as simply being nasty illnesses for a child (or anyone) to endure, measles can cause deafness or brain damage, mumps, sterility and rubella can cause birth defects in an unborn child.

It is totally beyond me why anyone would choose not to protect not just their child, but also their family and friends, against these awful yet preventable conditions. If your child has not already been vaccinated, I urge you to book an appointment now.

More on Parentdish:

Measles: symptoms to spot and how to protect your child