I think the NHS is a marvellous institution. It is one of the things that makes me proud to be British.

If you can’t trust what the NHS have to say, who can you trust? So, let’s listen to what they have to say. Have you visited the NHS website on MMR?

A headline on the front page, introducing the Research section, states:

“The overwhelming weight of evidence proves that MMR is safe, and the number of studies demonstrating this is growing.” [my emphasis]

Just so we know where we’re going with this, let’s look up the word “safe” in the dictionary. We can use mine if you like.

My copy of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary says: “secure, out of or not exposed to danger… affording security and not involving danger.”But let’s not be funny about this. Let’s give the Other Place a go.The Cambridge dictionary (happily online) defines “safe (without danger)” as: “not dangerous or likely to cause harm… describes things which do not involve any risk.”

Now, bearing this in mind, take a look at the Patient Information Leaflets.

There are two: MMRII (Merck Sharp and Dohme’s brand) and Priorix (Glaxo Smith Kline’s brand). Each of them lists a quite frankly alarming array of side effects including:

Burning, stinging, redness, swelling, tenderness or pain at injection site; fever; rash (which may be purple and spotted or red and blotchy, and may spread to form lumps or blisters, a rash with small fluid-filled spots, swelling of the skin); sore throat; general “unwellness”; fainting, irritability or nervousness; swollen glands in front of your ears, in your armpits or in your groin; nausea and vomiting; diarrhoea; reduced platelet levels (causing bruising, rash, nosebleeds, heavy periods); allergic reactions (including itching, face / throat swelling; difficulty breathing, discolouration of tongue or lips; low blood pressure and anaphylactic reactions / collapse); mumps; painful or swollen joints; arthritis and related disorders; painful muscles; fits / convulsions (with or without fever); headache; dizziness; tingling sensation; meningitis; inflammation of the nerves (causing pain and tenderness and loss of function of muscles); the serious nerve disease Guillain-Barré Syndrome; loss of co-ordination / unsteadiness; cough, bronchitis, respiratory tract infection; rhinitis, runny nose; viral infection; inflammation of optical nerves or the innermost layer of the eye (causing headache, visual disturbance, inability to move the eyes, double vision); inflmmation of the covering of the eye and/or eyelid, causing red sticky eyes; ear infection; deafness; painful testicles; inflammation of the brain (causing headaches, drowsiness and occasionally death); gradual mental deterioration with fits and muscle jerks.

(Although, comfortingly “most people do not have any serious or long-lasting reactions to M-M-R II“, while “In comparative studies with other measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, the incidences of local pain, redness and swelling reported with Priorix were low, while the incidences of otheradverse reactions were similar.”)

Now – call me Alarmist if you will, and while we’re calling names let’s also go for Pedant – but, to me, a vaccine that can cause even some of those reactions in some people cannot accurately be described as “safe”. That description is untrue: MMR might be less risky than the alternative (that remains to be seen), but that is not the same as “safe”.

In my view, the NHS should offer advice, information and treatment. It is not the function of the NHS to tell people what to do. That is what governments are for. It is not their job to persuade. That is what politicians are for.

Yet, when it comes to the MMR, it seems that persuading people to take up the vaccine is exactly what the NHS is there to do – and it seems that they are so determined to do it well that they are not letting a little thing like an untruth stand in their way.