SUNDAY EXPRESS 18 June 2006
by Lucy Johnston
Can we ever trust MMR?
'The Government has not looked at the whole picture'
Four years ago, the Sunday Express revealed that at least 26 child deaths have been linked with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. In many cases, the Government - or leading medical officials - accepted the connection.
Parents were awarded vaccine damage payments of up to £100,000 and, in other cases, experts drew up post-mortem reports blaming the MMR jab as the most likely cause of death.
Now, as we report today, two more parents have come forward claiming their babies died as a result of the jab. And, last month, Vietnamese health authorities withdrew the MMR jab after the death of one child and hospitalisation of five others. The World Health Organisation is now investigating this scare.
Since its launch in 1988, thousands of parents have reported unwanted reactions to the triple jab, from moderate – rash, headache, temperature – to severe, including brain damage, autism and convulsions. In 1992, the Department of Health conceded it got the pre-licence trials wrong when the chief medical officer announced the withdrawal of two of the three brands of MMR because they were found to be causing meningitis.
All drugs, including vaccines can have side effects. The Government accepts this – why else would it make vaccine damage pay-outs of up to £100,000? But, publicly, it claims no deaths have been associated with MMR. How can it do this when its own officials and post-mortem reports state otherwise?
Vaccine manufacturers accept there can be serious side effects, and have informed the Government of this. So why does the Government’s publicity machine continue to insist that the triple jab is entirely safe?
Instead of being open and investigating potential dangers in what appears to be a minority of children, the Government polarises the debate by implying there are no risks.The Whitehall propaganda machine really kicked in eight years ago when the press reported findings of Dr Andrew Wakefield’s explosive paper linking the MMR jab with autism.
At the time, his work was accepted as credible by experts in the field. But, instead of making stocks of single vaccines available, as Wakefield advised, policy chiefs made it difficult for parents to obtain them.
MMR uptake continued to fall. With an outbreak of disease on the horizon, publich health officials panicked. The Department of Health launched a campaign to rubbish Wakefield’s research. He was ostracised by his peers and forced to resign his post at the Royal Free. The Government risked losing face if it changed its stance and accepted MMR might cause problems in some children, but it also stood to lose millions in compensation claims. Action had also been taken against the drug companies, which is still ongoing.
Dr Wakefield has become the scapegoat for the frenzy over MMR but he is not, as the Government likes to portray him, a lone maverick. Many other doctors have concerns, and other scientists have found evidence to support his findings. But the Department of Health insists that research proves the jab is safe.
However, the Government has not looked at the whole picture. Instead of looking at the affected children themselves, the studies it cites are based on patterns of disease taken from medical records of large populations, which are unable to detect adverse reactions in small numbers of children.
When Dr Wakefield alerted the Government and vaccine chiefs to his research before publication, it promised an independent forum into his findings. This has never happened. Instead, it has called for an investigation into Dr Wakefield. The General Medical Council is considering whether to charge him with serious professional misconduct.
Figures released by the Health Protection Agency last week reveal the number of potentially deadly measles cases seen by doctors since January is five times higher than during all last year, prompting fears of an epidemic.
As Richard Halvorsen, vaccine expert and central London GP said: "With the threat of a measles epidemic, the only way many parents will protect their children is with the single vaccine. By refusing to allow this, the Government is contributing to the epidemic it seeks to prevent."
One has to ask the question: where does the Department of Health’s interests lie? Is it to protect the nation's health, or to protect officials, and the pharmaceutical industries’ lucrative patents for new combination jabs?