begin legal fight over MMR vaccine
By Rajeev Syal Sunday 1
children who claim that they were severely disabled by the triple vaccine for measles,
mumps and rubella have launched a multi-million-pound test case to claim compensation from
Adam Wilsher, 14, who is deaf, and Paul Sayers, 11, who suffers from acute autism, have
received Legal Aid to pursue SmithKline Beecham, the manufacturer of an MMR vaccine, for
negligence and breach of duty.
The cases are the first writs served against a manufacturer of the MMR injection which
was administered to more than four million children. The outcome will determine whether
another 500 children who claim to have experienced adverse side-effects will follow.
Other children claim to have suffered brain damage, communication problems, arthritis
and immuno-deficiency diseases from MMR vaccines and can be expected to seek up to £1
million each, according to legal experts.
The writs are the culmination of a 10-year campaign by parents. Jackie Fletcher, a
founding member of Jabs, a pressure group that supports the families of children claiming
to have been affected by vaccines, said: "The myth of the triple vaccine being safe
will finally be laid to rest if we win. This has been a long struggle and we hope that
justice will be done for our children."
Mrs Fletcher's son, Robert, was three and beginning to speak when he had his injection.
He subsequently suffered from autism and epilepsy. She said that at least 500 members of
Jabs wanted compensation. Mrs Fletcher stressed that the parents were not calling for all
vaccines to be abolished. They were asking for recognition that some children had been
disabled as a result of the MMR vaccine and should be compensated.
Paul Sayers, of Beaumaris, Anglesey, suffers from severe autism - a psychiatric
disorder that makes it difficult for him to communicate or make relationships - and needs
to be cared for day and night. His parents followed the advice of the former chief medical
officer, Sir Kenneth Calman - that it was better for children to accept the vaccine rather
than run the risk of being contaminated by one of the three viral diseases.
Paul's medical problems began when he was given the MMR injection in 1988. Innys
Sayers, his mother, believes that the vaccine proved too traumatic for her son. She said:
"I have given up my career in publishing and moved away from London because of the
effects of the vaccine. Now my life revolves around caring for my son and providing the
stability he needs."
Adam Wilsher was four when his parents took him for the MMR vaccine in October 1988.
They claim that he suffered violent side-effects as soon as the injection was
administered, became very ill, and lost his hearing while recovering.
The combined MMR vaccination against all three viruses was introduced in Britain in
October 1988 after being widely used for several years in America. In September 1992,
after research linked a cluster of cases of meningitis in Nottingham to batches of the
mumps strain in the vaccination, products made by two of the three manufacturers,
SmithKline Beecham and Merieux, were withdrawn.
All three vaccines used weakened mumps, measles and rubella viruses, to stimulate
resistance. The two withdrawn brands were Immravax, made by Merieux UK Limited, and
Pluserix, made by SmithKline Beecham.
Both the Sayers and the Wilsher families claim that the Pluserix injection was
defective and that the injuries were caused by the manufacturer's negligence in the
research, manufacture, testing and development. SmithKline Beecham denies liability and
said that its vaccine was withdrawn in 1992 as soon as the manufacturers became aware that
it carried an increased risk of provoking meningitis. A spokesman for the company said:
"There is no proof that the vaccine causes deafness or autism."
Since 1992 all the triple vaccines have been produced by Merck Sharpe and Dohme, with
about a million babies a year being immunised in this way.