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Junk Science? The Courts, the Media and the MMR Vaccine
John Harrington • The Morning Star, 23 September 2003

Carol Vorderman won’t. Ken Livingstone won’t - won’t 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 life.

Up 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?

We 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.

This 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 Blair’s reluctance to declare that his son Leo had been immunized also added to the frenzy.

Popular 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.

Campaigners 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 as counterproductive.

Ironically 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.

These suspicions and complaints are understandable. The pharmaceutical industry’s thirst for profits has resulted in spectacular disasters. For example, the thalidomide scandal of the 1960s was caused by inadequate testing and hasty marketing.

However, 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.

Furthermore 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.

The 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 child’s best interests.

The 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.

Emotional, as well as medical best interests had to be considered. Previously a separated father’s request that his child be circumcised was refused on this basis. The mother’s 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 case.

The 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.

This is not the end of legal involvement however. 1,500 families are taking a civil action against manufacturers of the MMR vaccine, including Britain’s 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.

A 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.

The 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 wrong.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

26 September 2003


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Glory O Glory O
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Beware the Trap Door
Eamon Sweeney


Massacre at the Monbar
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The Night de Valera Replied to Churchill
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Junk Science? The Courts, the Media and the MMR Vaccine
John Harrington


Conscience or Complicity
Mary La Rosa


23 September 2003


Dissident Republicanism
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Revenge or...
Pedram Moallemian


Chequers Nights
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Remembering the other 9/11
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The Letters Page has been updated.




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