Parents warned on 'natural' jabs

Lois Rogers, Medical Correspondent
July 1, 2001

THOUSANDS of parents are turning to homeopathic vaccines rather than conventional ones to protect children against killer diseases. The oral vaccines, based on diluted saliva or tissue from affected individuals, are used with remedies intended to boost the immune system.

The trend is condemned by the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS), which is engaged in a drive to convince people that vaccines such as the one for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) are safe. The British Homeopathic Association also opposes non-conventional vaccines.

Last week it was revealed that uptake of MMR is at its lowest since a scare began over possible links to autism and the bowel condition Crohn's disease. Only 86.4% of children are being vaccinated, with pockets of much lower take-up.

Experts fear a resurgence of measles. Although it does not cause long-term harm to most children, it killed or brain-damaged hundreds every year before the advent of routine vaccination in the 1960s. The last death in Britain was in 1992.

Christina Head, a homeopath in south London, says she has given the homeopathic measles vaccine to 2,000 children. Head, who is not otherwise medically qualified, admitted that some had developed the disease but she insisted that homeopathic remedies used with the vaccine prevent the infection being serious.

She blamed conventional vaccines on rising rates of cancer and said some contained aluminium, which is linked with Alzheimer's disease. "Measles is a wonderful disease for developing the immune system," she added.

A naturopath at an alternative clinic in London said Britain lags behind the developed world in using homeopathic vaccines. The practitioner, who did not want to be named, said: "I'd never let my children near a needle. I know how effective homeopathy is."

Others are more equivocal. John Morgan, the managing director of Helios, a manufacturer of homeopathic remedies in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said there is no evidence that they work, although many practitioners are convinced. His business has had a growth in turnover of 15-20% since the 1980s.

Morgan, who is also a traditionally trained pharmacist, said homeopathy is based on the principle that "like cures like", and that without an epidemic of a specific disease being present, it is impossible to know what remedies to use.

Elizabeth Miller, the head of the PHLS immunisation division, condemned homeopathic vaccines as "naive". She said there is a large body of evidence that vaccines, which are based on weakened strains of disease-causing agents, do work, and that MMR is not associated with autism.

"Before you can use any vaccines in humans they have to go through a rigorous process to show they do not contain any disease-causing agents," she said. "They are highly purified, and there is no evidence at all for these claims."