Over a third (35%) of 16-18-year-olds do not believe that measles, mumps or rubella can affect them; yet nearly a quarter (22%) do not even know if they have had the MMR vaccination, according to a survey commissioned by the Department of Health.
This is despite Health Protection Agency data showing that mumps is not uncommon within this age group, with 2,224 confirmed cases of mumps reported amongst 15-19-year-olds in England and Wales between January and November 2009.
The survey also revealed a variety of reasons for teenagers missing the jab, from nearly a quarter (23%) saying they were afraid of needles, to one in ten (10%) citing a dislike of going to the doctor.
Young people's biggest health worry is sexually transmitted infections (STIs), with over half (56%) of those surveyed admitting they are most concerned about this issue and two thirds (63%) believing that the STI they are most likely to catch is chlamydia.
Conversely, the survey indicates that young people are ill-informed about the potential consequences of catching measles, mumps or rubella. For example, only 13% are aware that mumps rarely causes deafness and just over one in ten (12%) know that it can cause swelling of the brain (encephalitis).
Professor David Salisbury, Director of Immunisation at the Department of Health, said:
"Many young people feel that they are not in danger of catching measles, mumps and rubella, yet because older teenagers will be among those who were not routinely offered the MMR vaccination in childhood, we are seeing a high number of cases, particularly of mumps, within this age group.
"It is a concern that so many are unsure about whether they've been vaccinated and I would encourage them to seek advice from their practice nurse or GP. It is never too late to have the MMR vaccine and protect yourself and others against measles, mumps and rubella."
Mumps can cause fever, headache, and painful, swollen glands in the face, neck and jaw. Very rarely, it can even lead to inflammation of the pancreas, ovaries and testicles. In worst cases, it can result in permanent deafness or viral meningitis.