A SENIOR public health official is warning of a deadly measles epidemic in parts of Cheshire because parents are refusing the controversial MMR jab.
Dr Bernard Schlecht, North Cheshire's consultant for communicable disease control, says children are at real risk of catching the disease this winter without the vaccination.
His warning comes as figures show vaccination levels are at dangerously low levels in Warrington and Halton.
Last night, Dr Schlecht said: "Those who lived through the devastating outbreak of measles in Warrington in 1930 will never forget it. But there is a very real chance that parents today have never even seen a case of measles and simply don't realise how dangerous it can be."
Figures from North Cheshire Health Authority show only 77pc of children in Halton have been covered by the first and most important of the MMR jabs. In Warrington, the figure is 87pc.
The NHS considers a safe level to be 95pc.
MMR covers measles, mumps and rubella. Measles is highly infectious with common complications including deafness, pneumonia and meningitis. Children can even die from it.
Complications with mumps can cause damage to the nervous system and infertility in later life while babies born to pregnant women who contract rubella can be blind, deaf or brain-damaged.
North Cheshire Health Authorityis launching a campaign to encourage parents to take up the MMR vaccine.
Concerns over the safety of the jab were raised after parents believed it was linked to autism and bowel disorders.
Controversy has raged over recent months after Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to say whether his own toddler, Leo, had been given the vaccine.
Some parents have chosen to have their children vaccinated separately at a cost of £200.
But Dr Schlecht, whose own child has been given the MMR jab, said it was perfectly safe.
He added: "Recent media stories have been confusing and caused unnecessary alarm.
"I had no hesitation in having my own child vaccinated and I urge all parents to do the same."
The health authority says there is a large amount of evidence showing no link between MMR and autism.
It claims parents often notice signs of autism after a child's first birthday and, because MMR is usually given around the same time, it is leading people to wrongly believe there is a connection.
Health experts also say there is no evidence to suggest vaccinating against three diseases at the same time overloads the child's immune system.
MMR is given once at the age of one and again, aged four, to protect a child.
The figures showing the number of children vaccinated in Halton and Warrington were calculated on the number of children aged 24 months who were recorded to have had the first MMR jab. For advice on MMR, call NHS Direct on 0845-4647...SUPL: