by Wendy Inkster
Lincolshire Echo http://www.thisislincolnshire.co.uk
Every year, thousands of youngsters across Britain are given the measles, mumps and rubella jab.
But Mr and Mrs Stephenson believe that the vaccine that was given to their three-year-old daughter Georgia has left her with severe difficulties in communicating and obsessive behaviour patterns.
The Lincolnshire couple's case is one of 700 being brought against MMR drug manufacturers by parents.
It is believed that scores more parents are taking legal action because they say the vaccine has affected their children.
Mr Stephenson (35) told This Is Lincolnshire: "Our world fell apart when Georgia was diagnosed with autism. Now we believe people should have the choice to have the three-in-one jab in separate doses."
The couple, from Keddington, near Louth, say Georgia's health and behaviour went downhill from the day she had the inoculation on December 19, 1997.
On behalf of the family, law firm Alexander Harris, which is based in Cheshire and is representing more than 700 similar cases, has filed a claim at the High Court in London suing vaccine companies for damages in excess of £50,000 for personal injury.
"At the end of the day the money is extremely important for Georgia's quality of life. She will need special care, supervision and understanding of her strict diet," said Mr Stephenson.
The self-employed amusement machinery supplier added: "We have to provide for her later on in life and, if anything happens to us, we want to be assured that she is cared for.
"But the money is not the most important thing to us, it's the recognition that there is a link and that the vaccine did cause Georgia's autism."
The family's case is among hundreds claiming damages over the vaccine which could be one of the biggest group actions in this country.
Jonathan Foster, a spokesman for Alexander Harris, said: "We think the company has marketed a faulty product and, although the Government is sceptical, we have experts who claim there is a very plausible link between the immunisation and the onset of autism in children."
Lincoln District Health Care consultant community paediatrician, Dr Carol Millns, has diagnosed a number of children with autism.
She said: "There is currently a lot of very interesting and well-validated research looking at the relationship between bowel problems and autism and there have been findings of the measles virus in the bowels of these children," she said.
"The researchers are not necessarily saying that the MMR inoculation caused this, or not to immunise with the vaccine, but they are saying to be careful about it."
According to the Lincolnshire Health Authority, 88 per cent of children in the county have an MMR vaccination between 15-months-old and four-and-a-half-years-old.
LHA county immunisation and vaccination co-ordinator Janine Rayfield said: "All vaccines are researched over a number of years and there have been millions of MMR vaccines given since it was made available in 1988. How can people suddenly say it's not safe?"
Mr and Mrs Stephenson are suing American-based company Merck & Co Inc.
Alex Jolly, public relations manager of the firm's UK subsidiary, Merck, Sharp and Dohme, said people should have confidence in the safety of the MMR jab.
"Our company has 29 years of experience with the vaccine, MMR1 and MMR2. More than 330 million doses have been distributed worldwide," she said.
"The vaccine undergoes extensive and rigorous testing and the vast weight of medical evidence strongly supports the continued use of the vaccination process."
No vaccine claim has yet succeeded in the English courts.
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