CJD, BSE & vaccines

MMR vaccine linked with deadly Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

Posted: Mon, 8 Jul 1996 under Science in the News

New Plymouth, July 8 NZPA – Thousands of New Zealand children could be at risk of contracting a deadly brain disease after receiving the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination, an Australian scientist says.

The Ministry of Health has said the routine MMR vaccination, given to New Zealand children at 15 months and again at 11 years, contains human blood. It is made in the United States, a country which pays donors to give blood and which, Melbourne University’s senior research fellow Lynette Dumble says, does not take adequate precautions to protect its blood supplies from creutzfeldt-jakob disease (CJD), the human equivalent of mad cow disease. "Children who receive the vaccine could be at risk," Dr Dumble said.

The longer New Zealand and other countries continued to use the vaccine, she said, the greater the possibility of a worldwide epidemic of CJD, a fatal degenerative disease affecting the brain. "The chances are remote, yes, but there is a real possibility and given the magnitude and cruelty of this illness, I think every precaution should be taken."

She questioned why the vaccine, made by Merck Sharp and Dohme and which contains human serum albumin, a blood product, needed to contain a human blood element. If blood had to be used, Dr Dumble said countries injecting children with it should, at least, ensure it was made from blood which came from countries which had strict screening processes for CJD, like New Zealand.

The Health Ministry this year implemented more rigorous screening of donors for CJD and now quarantines blood from people known to have or suspected of having CJD. But before taking that step, blood from people who had died from CJD had already gone out for public use. A number of fractionated blood products made from New Zealand blood are used here.

They are:
* Albumex, used to maintain blood circulation;
* Normal immunoglobulin, used in special cases as protection against hepatitis A (not the usual vaccine against this disease) and to treat people with rare immunodeficiency diseases;
* Intragam, a form of immunoglobulin;
* RhD Ig, used when a woman’s blood group is rhesus negative and her baby is rhesus positive. She may be given an injection of this within 72 hours of birth to protect her next baby from a serious blood disorder;
* Hep B Ig, given to babies at birth whose mothers are carriers of Hepatitis B;
* Tetanus Ig, usually given to people who have never had a tetanus injection and who have a wound at risk of causing tetanus;
* Zoster Ig, used in special situations to prevent chicken pox;
* AHF and Prothrombinex, used by haemophiliacs.

The ministry said the blood product in the MMR vaccine was pasteurised (heated to destroy harmful micro-organisms) and, unlike other blood products, had never been implicated in the transmission of human viruses to patients. In a statement it said it did not believe there was any risk posed by the presence of human serum albumin in vaccines. But Dr Dumble said pasteurisation would not be enough to knock out CJD, which was super-resistant. In May the ministry quarantined some fractionated blood products from two donors that had died from CJD, including te tanus immunoglobulin and normal immunoglobulin. The ministry said in a statement today these were not vaccines which were routinely used in the childhood immunisation schedule.

NZPA TDN am cf 08/07/96 19-05NZ