Mother Rejects official claim MMR is safe--campaigner draws analogy with BSE

Jan 23 2001

By Neal Smith

A parent of an autistic child reacted angrily to the Government's denial yesterday that the controversial MMR vaccine was linked to the condition.

The chief medical officer for England, Professor Liam Donaldson, told a conference of medical experts that the vaccine was safe.

He was responding to claims that the MMR vaccine had not been adequately tested before it was launched in the UK and may be linked to autism and bowel disease.

Professor Donaldson, former chief executive of the Northern and Yorkshire Regional office of the Department of Health, will be backed up by a 3m Government advertising campaign to reassure parents of the safety of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which was also announced yesterday.

But Lesley Henderson, whose son Toby, six, has autism, accused the Government last night "of a cover-up on a scale as potentially large as the BSE crises".

Mrs Henderson, 42, of Mile Road, Widdrington, in Northumberland, said: "I have been campaigning for years on the behalf of all autistic children in the North-East and all of them have two things in common: one, they are autistic; two, they have had the MMR vaccine.

"It is time the Government stopped trying to cover up the possibility that there is a link and have a full scale inquiry. And, in the meantime they should stop wasting money on advertising campaigns and spin and start putting the money towards introducing three separate vaccines.

"It is the cocktail of the MMR jabs which I, and thousands of other people, believe has caused our children to develop autism."

Her claims that there could be a link were backed yesterday by Dr Andrew Wakefield, a consultant gastroenterologist at the Royal Free Hospital in London, who criticised trials of the jab in an article published on Sunday in the medical journal Adverse Drug Reactions.

He said that trials of the vaccine were not adequate and that there could be a link with autism.

However, Professor Donaldson, addressing a specially arranged conference of medical experts, concluded: "We have had discussions with all the major health organisations in this country about the MMR vaccination programme.

"Every single one of them agrees that the MMR vaccine is the safest and best way to protect children against measles, mumps and rubella.

"Whenever there is a health scare parents are left confused.

"They should be left in no doubt after [yesterday's] summit that the advice from doctors, nurses and every major health organisation is that they should have their children vaccinated with MMR."

But Mrs Henderson said: "Many people's children are at risk with this vaccine. The previous Government said there was nothing wrong with beef 10 years ago. What will it take for them to research this subject properly?"

Immunisation levels for MMR have fallen dramatically since fears over the jab were raised three years ago.

In some parts of the country only 75 per cent of children are immunised, far below the World Health Organisation's recommendations that at least 90 per cent must be vaccinated in order to protect the whole population from epidemics.

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