Vorderman wont. Ken Livingstone wont -
wont allow their children to receive the triple
vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) that
is. When the triple jab was introduced in 1988 92%
of children received the vaccine. This has fallen
to 79% nationally and as low as 65% in some parts
of London. The Department of Health now warns that
Britain is on the brink of a deadly measles epidemic.
In the last outbreak before introduction of the triple
vaccine, in 1980, 17 people died. Those who survive
are at risk of brain injury and infertility in later
to now the main source of the virus has been people
returning to Britain from abroad. Normally the infection
was limited to very small groups only, since immunity
was widespread. With vaccination rates falling, this
protection has come down. What has happened?
must return to a 1998 study published by Dr Andrew
Wakefield of the Royal Free Hospital. He claimed that
the vaccine had not been properly tested before introduction
and that it could cause autism and serious bowel disorders
in children. This lent scientific support to anti-vaccination
groups like JABS. Since January 1994 they claim to
have registered 2000 cases of vaccine damage in children.
1800 are the result of MMR, they say.
scare has been eagerly taken up by the media. In the
autumn Channel Five will screen a drama on vaccine
damage starring Juliet Stevenson. Melanie Phillips
championed the cause of Dr Wakefield in the Daily
Mail earlier this year and Private Eye published a
largely supportive special issue. Tony Blairs
reluctance to declare that his son Leo had been immunized
also added to the frenzy.
suspicion of the government and the scientific establishment
has increased since the CJD/ BSE scandal. Few have
forgotten the sight of Tory minister John Selwyn Gummer
feeding his daughter a hamburger at a time when mad
cow disease was still out of control.
claim that GP bonuses are driving the MMR programme.
If 90% of children registered with a practice are
vaccinated against a range of childhood diseases each
GP receives £2865, and if 70% are immunized
they receive £995. Given the current backlash
the British Medical Association now condemns incentives
scepticism is fed by the success of earlier vaccination
programmes. We no longer see children forced to wear
callipers or use an iron lung, as was the case with
polio in the 1950s. TB, small pox, cholera and diphtheria
have been wiped out.
suspicions and complaints are understandable. The
pharmaceutical industrys thirst for profits
has resulted in spectacular disasters. For example,
the thalidomide scandal of the 1960s was caused by
inadequate testing and hasty marketing.
the risks of not vaccinating are great. Sceptical
parents prefer to take three jabs for measles mumps
and rubella separately. But single vaccines spreadover
time increase the risk of infection. Private clinics
offering the service have been criticized for not
preparing the vaccines properly and, thus, posing
further risks to children.
population-based studies have shown no association
between levels of MMR uptake and the incidence of
autism. Finnish researchers followed 2 million children
for 14 years after they received the MMR vaccine and
found no evidence that the vaccination resulted in
later health problems. Most recent support has come
from researchers at the University of London. In fact
scientific opinion in favour of vaccination is overwhelming.
High Court entered this contested field in a widely
reported decision of July last. Two fathers sought
to compel their separated partners to submit their
daughters to a range of vaccinations including MMR.
Although vaccination of children is not obligatory,
parents in dispute can refer to the court for a decision
under the Children Act 1989. The court must decide
in the childs best interests.
mothers case was supported by Dr Donegan, a
general practitioner and homeopath. Her doubts about
the safety and efficacy of the various vaccines were
comprehensively undermined by the fathers expert
witnesses, both leading paediatricians.
as well as medical best interests had to be considered.
Previously a separated fathers request that
his child be circumcised was refused on this basis.
The mothers religious objections and resultant
distress would harm the child. The facts here were
different however. The mothers would be able to tolerate
having their children immunized; and the benefits
of this were much clearer than in the circumcision
Court of Appeal agreed. Lord Justice Sedley held that
the mothers case was based on junk science.
He urged parents to read the pro-vaccination decision
of the court.
is not the end of legal involvement however. 1,500
families are taking a civil action against manufacturers
of the MMR vaccine, including Britains Glaxo
Smith Klein. The case will be heard in spring 2004.
They claim that their children were injured by the
vaccine. The huge difficulties of proof which they
will face should make us reflect on alternatives.
compensation scheme was set up in 1979 for children
suffering from the side effects of certain vaccines.
Up to £100,000 can be paid to a person who has
been severely disabled as a result of vaccination.
This amount is nowhere near what an affected family
needs. The scheme is underfunded and the drug companies
make no contribution.
only fair solution is to make comprehensive medical
and social care available to everyone who lives with
disability. The legal system makes compensation dependent
on a lottery of causation. Surely if the benefits
of mass vaccination are to be accepted then children
and their carers should not lose out when it goes
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