MMR vaccine played no part in baby's sudden death, coroner says

George Fisher's parents dismayed by coroner's verdict that the 18-month-old died of natural causes

George Fisher who died aged 17 months, 10 days after having the MMR jab

George Fisher who died aged 17 months, 10 days after having the MMR triple jab. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The MMR vaccine played no part in the death of a baby 10 days after getting the jab, a coroner ruled today.

George Fisher, aged 18 months, was discovered dead in his cot in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, by his mother, Sarah Fisher, hours after he was heard "chatting away on the baby monitor".

Fisher, 42, and her husband Christopher, 43, believe the vaccine is "implicated" in their son's death in January 2006.

They said no one had explained to them the temperature-raising effect of the jab on children who had previously suffered a fit, as George had.

But the Gloucestershire coroner Alan Crickmore decided that George's symptoms had emerged too soon after receiving the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) jab to be related to it.

Although George had a 2% chance of suffering a convulsion after the jab, those were not known to be fatal and there was no evidence he had even had a second fit.

The coroner recorded a verdict of natural causes, ruling that George had died from a rare condition known as Sudden Unexpected Death in Childhood, due to an unascertained disease.

The verdict came after doctors, paediatricians and consultants told the hearing at Gloucester shire hall there was no evidence of a link between George's death and the jab.

Department of Health guidelines say the jab should be given "with caution" but does not ban child sufferers of febrile convulsions - fever fits - from taking it and recommends monitoring temperatures.

After the hearing the family's lawyer, Judith Leach, said George's parents were "extremely disappointed" with the verdict and would always believe MMR was to blame as no other cause had been found.

She read a statement saying: "The family are extremely disappointed in the verdict.

"In the absence of any medical evidence to explain why their healthy little boy died and given the timing of the MMR vaccination in relation to George's death, his parents firmly believe there is a link between the two events and that the MMR vaccine had a role to play in George's death."

Sarah Fisher, standing outside court with her husband, said: "I think it's so wrong to put the death of a healthy little boy down to natural causes. There's nothing natural about an 18-month-old boy dying of nothing, because that's what it was - nothing.

"This has devastated our family all over again. Three years of work and reports and it's just natural causes? I'll never, ever understand that word."

Ten years ago research led by Dr Andrew Wakefield, who is under investigation by the General Medical Council, sparked fears that the combined MMR vaccine was linked to autism.

Major studies in Britain, Finland and Japan have since disproved the connection but popular anxiety persists.

Last week it emerged that cases of measles had topped 1,000 for the first time in more than a decade, which public health experts blamed on the "relatively low" uptake of the MMR vaccine.