Government line on MMR injection threatens to land doctors in court
DOCTORS who insist on giving children the
controversial triple MMR vaccine could be sued by
parents, their union has said.
The Medical Defence Union, which represents more than
half of Britain's GPs, has warned its members they
risk legal action if they refuse to prescribe or
administer single dose vaccinations and insist on the
The warning comes in the wake of a huge slump in the
number of children in Scotland receiving the triple
MMR jab because of parents' fears that the injections
might be linked to autism or the serious bowel
condition Crohn's disease. Between 1995 and 2001, the
proportion of children receiving the vaccine fell from
94.8% to 87.8% raising fears of an epidemic of
measles, mumps or rubella.
Concerns about MMR were first raised in 1998 when
researchers at London's Royal Free Hospital published
a paper in the medical journal The Lancet suggesting
the vaccine was linked to bowel disease and autism.
Dr Nicholas Norwell, the Medical Defence Union's
medico-legal adviser, confirmed GPs had been warned of
the threat of legal action.
Norwell said: "Doctors are being put in a very
difficult position. On the one hand they are being
advised very strongly by the government to give the
triple vaccine, but on the other they are seeing
anxious parents worried about the effect of the MMR
vaccine on their children.
Although Norwell said it would be difficult for
parents to successfully sue a GP for refusing to give
separate injections, he added: "The issue is
The warning of possible legal action comes as an
investigation has raised concerns over the
impartiality of a recent study which claimed the MMR
vaccine was safe. The investigation found that the
authors of the research had received money from its
Professor David Elliman, whose study said fears of a
link between the MMR vaccine and autism were
unfounded, admitted that he and Dr Helen Bedford had
been given money by drugs giants SmithKline Beecham
and Pasteur Merieux Merck Sharp & Dohme. Their report,
MMR Vaccine - Worries Are Not Justified, is published
in the current issue of the medical journal Archives
of Disease in Childhood, and was used by the
government to reiterate its view that the vaccine is
Elliman, of the department of child health at London's
St George's Hospital, said: "We have both received
money to attend meetings and for doing research.
"Most of what we have received has gone to charity or
to support study budgets."
However Elliman insisted that he and Bedford, of the
Institute of Child Health, had not been influenced by
the pharmaceutical firms in producing their study.
"The well-being of children has always been our
priority and will always be so. We would utterly
refute any suggestion that money we have received from
the pharmaceutical companies has had any influence on
the findings of our research into the safety of the
Elliman added that researchers examining vaccines
would almost invariably receive money from
pharmaceutical companies because of a lack of
"If one were to cut off the money from the
pharmaceutical industry we could all go home," he