I carry Google ads, so I'm used to incongruous things occasionally popping up on these pages, and I try to block the most unpleasant of them (you know - the Sun, the BNP, the Telegraph, Scientology and so on) as and when I spot them. But having written a couple of posts about vaccinations I've seen adverts turning up on here for people offering single vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella - to balance things out, Ben Goldacre's Bad Science page on vaccinations and media coverage, and the NHS Choices Baby Life Check pages turn up as well, which is a good thing.
I couldn't help wondering what these people were offering and how much it would cost. I wondered what the price of fear over MMR and other vaccinations might be. Now I know everyone's got to make a living and, fine, if you're in private medicine you're there to make a profit as well as offer a service. I don't have a problem with that. But what are they offering, why are single jabs better and how much do worried parents have to fork out?
The first people whose Google ads turned up on this blog are Clarion Healthcare, based in Bath. They do funky stuff like scanning babies in 4D (I still do not understand what 4D is, to be honest with you) but they also offer 'mercury free vaccines'. It's not tremendously cheap if you're worried about that, though: the MMR initial programme comes in at £320 with the booster programme at £280. That compares slightly unfavourably with the Government's price of £0.00, but you pays your money, you takes your choice, you get what you pay for. They explain:
At Clarion Health we believe that every parent should have the right to choose what they feel is best for their child. To this end, we offer a comprehensive Single Vaccination Programme as an alternative to the MMR, and we will encourage and help you to make an informed decision by providing you with sources of information on the options available to you.
It seems like a lot of money just for a bit of personal choice, doesn't it? Or does it, if you're terrified about media coverage of vaccinations?
Interestingly they also offer "latest developments in the MMR controversy" as part of their consultation with you. And in their FAQs, they state:
Although there is still no clear evidence that the MMR is harmful, we recognise the increasing anxiety among parents concerning the safety of a vaccine which combines three live vaccines in one.
They also say
Most family doctors are now understanding of the fact that some parents have lost faith with the triple MMR vaccine.
But their links section does go to the NHS and the Department of Health as well as JABS, so I think it would be wrong to say they're trying to push parents one way or the other. All I would say is they stand to benefit to the tune of £600 for every child whose parents do decide to opt for single vaccines. That does seem a lot of money to me, but who knows? If you're worried about your child and read a lot of stuff in the papers that makes you feel confused, maybe it wouldn't seem so much.
Also turning up on these pages were Desumo, based in Worcester, who offer single vaccines for a total of £325 (including registration fee). They also offer rubella on its own "for young adolescents and women as an alternative to MMR vaccine" for £90. Under the 'choices' section of their website they say:
The Measles, Mumps and Rubella Vaccine was introduced in 1988 and during its short life has been the subject of a great deal of media speculation and coverage.
They suggest you get their information pack on the subject - if you want to find out about DTP vaccines and the 'controversy' then you must pay £10 plus £2 P&P. It's the same price to find out about MMR.
Regarding single vaccines, they say:
Single Vaccines have come to parent's attention since the controversy over the MMR vaccine being linked to both autism and bowel disorder emerged. Many parents are seeking this option even though no proven link between MMR and either of the above conditions has yet been found.
Now I don't have anything against these people, I'd like to make that clear. They've got to make a living, as we all do, and they're providing a service for which there is apparently a demand. I'm not some kind of MMR or HPV vaccine evangelist either; I'm aware that vaccines have damaged people in the past and that some people do react badly to them, as happens with all medicines.
I just wish we could make informed choices based on clear proof and clear evidence, rather than scare stories in the papers which draw links between vaccination and episodes which may not have been connected with them at all. That kind of fearmongering comes at a price - if not the price of possible illness then the price that some parents are prepared to pay in order to get separate or mercury-free vaccinations, or even just to get information about vaccinations from a business which stands to make money from the choice to go for single vaccinations rather than the free state ones.