A baby boy waits in the queue for the MMR vaccination outside Morriston Hospital
Health officials are bracing themselves for the number of confirmed cases in the Swansea measles epidemic to rise.
On Friday the number of cases stood at 588 but officials say around 15-20 new cases are currently confirmed each day.
Parents across Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend are being urged to vaccinate children before they return to school after the Easter break.
Meanwhile, a Swansea newspaper has defended itself against claims that its 1990s anti-MMR campaign was to blame.
Jonathan Roberts, editor of the South Wales Evening Post, said the campaign was hard-hitting but reflected parents’ concerns at the time about the safety of the vaccine.
It is clear that there were genuine concerns in the mid-90s about MMR and the Post gave them full and responsible coverage”
Jonathan RobertsSouth Wales Evening Post Editor
It is the first time the newspaper has responded to claims that its campaign could have been responsible for a lower uptake of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine in the Swansea area.
“It is clear that there were genuine concerns in the mid-90s about MMR and the Post gave them full and responsible coverage,” he said in the article on the Evening Post website.
He added that “with the benefit of hindsight” it is easy to be critical.
“To judge it honestly and fairly, one has to consider the fear which existed at the time, the fact that medical experts were publicly expressing concerns about the vaccine and the duty of this paper to reflect public opinion.”
Mr Roberts will host a live webchat at 14:30 BST on Tuesday on the paper’s website.
If the number of cases in the Swansea area reaches 622, it will exceed the figure in the north west of England in the year to February 2013, with most on Merseyside, in Greater Manchester and west Lancashire.
About 1,700 people were vaccinated at special hospital drop-in clinics at the weekend and health officials are urging others to get the jab.
- How safe is it to take children to mainland Europe who have had two doses of the MMR vaccine?
It gives 99% protection against the measles virus.
- What if they have had only one dose of MMR?
One dose is better than none, but two doses is better than one. If you are concerned about travelling to an outbreak area you can bring forward the second MMR dose. Speak to your GP about it.
- What if my children are not vaccinated at all?
The advice is to go to your GP and arrange for them to be immunised as soon as possible before you travel. Measles is a dangerous viral illness that can be fatal.
BBC Health – Measles
‘Death risk’ in outbreak
Sara Hayes, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board’s director of public health, said: “Many children who missed the MMR jabs when they were little will be sitting exams once they go back to school.
“We are not in any way judgmental about why their children may have missed the MMR in the past. The important thing is that they get the jab now,” she added.
Before the introduction of the MMR in 1988, about half a million children caught measles and about 100 died from it each year in the UK.
Concerns over the jab’s safety were raised in the late 1990s when a surgeon published a since discredited paper in The Lancet suggesting MMR was linked to an increased risk of autism.
That paper, and subsequent media coverage, led to immunisation rates plummeting.
Although the epidemic is based in Swansea, cases continue to be reported across Wales.
Most are in the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health region, which also includes Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend.
There are also cases in Powys and in the Hywel Dda Health Board area, which covers Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire.
Officials have said 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 even dies.
Typical symptoms of measles include fever, cough, conjunctivitis and a rash. Complications are quite common even in healthy people, and about 20% of reported measles cases experience one or more complication.
These can include ear infections, vomiting and diarrhoea, pneumonia, meningitis and serious eye disorders.
Queues at Morriston Hospital on Saturday