Fact or Fiction

JABS on the Health Education Authority's leaflet  "MMR - The Facts"

MMR - Fact or Fiction?

The Health Education Authority's leaflet called "MMR - The Facts" is issued to interested parents before the vaccination of their child. It's reproduced here with additional comments from JABS, in green italics .

What is MMR?

MMR vaccine protects your child against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). It is given to children at 12-15 months and again, as a booster, before they go to school. Since MMR was introduced in the UK in 1988 the number of children catching these diseases has fallen to an all time low.

  • Measles vaccine prevents deaths and complications from measles, a disease that can still be serious. Measles vaccine can also cause death and complications as supported by statistics from JABS and the Department of Health's Vaccine Damage Payment Unit
  • Mumps vaccine prevents mumps, which was the biggest cause of viral meningitis in children. In 1992 two brands of MMR vaccine were withdrawn because the mumps component was causing a viral meningitis in some children - these vaccines were introduced in 1988 and it took the DoH 4 years to withdraw them!
  • Rubella vaccine prevents babies being damaged if their mother catches rubella when pregnant. There are known side effects to the rubella component of the vaccine which no child should be exposed to if s/he is not in danger from the disease. What was wrong with the old system of routinely blood testing teenage girls to determine immunity and then providing a vaccine on a need-to-have basis?
  • MMR can prevent these diseases in a combined injection. There is a very big question mark on this statement in view of the large number of families reporting very severe reactions to the vaccine. There is no point in substituting chronic illnesses for acute illnesses!

How does MMR work?

MMR contains three separate vaccines in one injection. The vaccines work at different times. About a week to ten days after the MMR immunisation some children become feverish, develop a measles-like rash and go off their food - as the measles part of the vaccine starts to work. The above statement is correct. What this does not tell you is the kind of problems these initial symptoms can lead to. The on-going JABS MMR survey questionnaire returned by parents indicates that some children with these specific initial symptoms go on to develop such disorders as epilepsy, speech and learning difficulties, acquired autism and severe developmental delay. These reports are anecdotal but come from parents who have been satisfied with their children's development up until the point of vaccination, regardless of the age when it was administered.

About three weeks after the injection a child might occasionally get a mild form of mumps as the mumps part of the MMR kicks in.Again this is corroborated by JABS parents. Children have been reported with swollen glands, meningitis symptoms, excessive thirst in the time period quoted. Some of these children have gone on to develop learning and language problems, juvenile insulin dependant diabetes and others .

Your child may, very rarely, get a rash of small bruise-like spots due to the rubella part of the immunisation about two weeks after the MMR. If you see spots like this, show them to your doctor. Good advice! This is exactly what many JABS parents have done. They have had their children medically examined by a GP or casualty department consultant who have in most instances stated that the time period was a coincidence and the child's long term problem, which followed on, was nothing to do with the injection. Joint and limb problems leading to juvenile arthritis, Guillian Barre syndrome (a paralysis condition) and blood conditions have been reported to us .

Occasionally, children do have a bad reaction to the MMR vaccine. About one in a thousand will have a fit after becoming feverish. There is no evidence that this reaction causes long term problems. This is because most long term problems are dismissed as a coincidence. Some of the medical phrases reported to JABS by parents are: 

"The vaccine revealed the tendency."

"The vaccine triggered the condition but did not cause it." 

"We don't know what caused the problem but it definitely wasn't the vaccine." 

"The child would have developed the condition anyway." 

The Public Health Laboratory's Service Statistics Unit had a report published in the Lancet March 4, 1995, Volume 345, Page 567-569, which stated that '67% of admissions for a convulsion 6-11 days after MMR vaccination were attributable to the measles component of the vaccine. When questioned by JABS about the long term consequences for these children the PHLS stated that their remit was just to look at the 6-11 day period!

A child who has measles is ten times more likely to have a fit as a result of the illness. Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) has been reported very rarely after immunisation (about one case in every million immunisations), but the risk of children developing encephalitis after the measles immunisation is no higher than the risk of children developing encephalitis without the vaccine... The phrase 'reported very rarely' implies that this does not happen very often. In fact the phrase should be taken in its literal sense - vaccine reactions are very rarely reported as corroborated by the PHLS study in the same Lancet article, "there is an urgent need to find more reliable methods of adverse event surveillance"... and encephalitis happens in one in every five thousand children who get measles.

The risks of the diseases are far greater than any risk from MMR. Long-term follow-up of children who have had measles vaccine shows that they had fewer hospital admissions than unimmunised children. Does this mean follow up after measles vaccine or MMR vaccine? Why were the children admitted to hospital and what were the long term consequences?

What about reports of links between measles, MMR and Crohn's disease?

It has been suggested that measles viruses, either from the natural disease or the vaccine, might stay in the bowel and cause a bowel disorder called Crohn's disease. Careful independent studies in this country and abroad, using the most sensitive tests, have not found measles viruses in the bowel of people with Crohn's disease. Also, Crohn's disease is no more common in immunised people than in people who have not been immunised. The conclusion of experts from all over the world, including the World Health Organisation, is that the evidence is firmly against any link between measles and MMR vaccine and Crohn's disease. Researchers at the Royal Free Hospital of Medicine may have discovered a new syndrome in children involving a new inflammatory bowel disease and autism. Their paper, which was published in the Lancet on 28 February 1998, also suggested that in a number of cases the onset of behavioural symptoms was associated with MMR vaccination. The research team, lead by Dr Andrew Wakefield, reader in experimental gastroenterology, and Professor John Walker-Smith, head of the department of paediatric gastroenterology, has subsequently investigated a further 40 patients, 39 of whom exhibited the same combination of intestinal and behavioural symptoms. Dr Wakefield said: "The study has identified a possible link between gut disorders in children and autism. In the majority of cases the onset of symptoms occurred soon after the MMR vaccination. We clearly need further research to examine this new syndrome, and to look into a possible relation to the MMR vaccine."

What about reports of links between autism and MMR?

Is this really a risk? No. Autism was well-known long before MMR was ever used in this country. Although autism is recognised more often now than in the past, the increases were going on long before MMR was introduced. Parents often first noticed signs of autism in children after their first birthday, and MMR is usually given when children are 12-15 month old, so it's possible to see how people might think that there is a link with MMR. But, there is no evidence, other than coincidence, to link MMR with autism. JABS believes there is evidence that the MMR is linked to late onset autism because: children who develop this condition were progressing normally before they were vaccinated, had passed all milestones and had acquired skills appropriate to their age. They did not simply fail to progress; they actually regressed, losing skills which they had already attained. In many instances this is borne out by videos taken of the children before and after they were vaccinated. They showed other physical changes at the time that they became autistic (such as sleep patterns, appetite changes, temperature control etc. in addition to many of them suffering bowel problems). The development of autism is closely linked in time to the administration of the vaccine. The onset of this condition generally started within about a month of vaccination whenever the vaccination took place. In other words, it would be later for children vaccinated at 15 months than those vaccinated at 12 months. On top of that, a substantial proportion of the children had an immediate reaction to the vaccination, and the change which came over them dates directly from that reaction.

Have children been followed up long enough after MMR to know it's safe?

In the US, MMR has been given for more than 25 years and around two hundred million doses have been used. Autism and Crohn's disease have not been linked with MMR there. If that is the case, why have the two American parent research organisations Autism Research Institute and Cure Autism Now Foundation joined with the National Vaccine Information Centre in calling for independent studies conducted by non-governmental researchers into the possible link between vaccines and autism? Beside this, US researchers have pointed to links between the vaccine and autism (e.g. Gupta, Fudenberg and Warren).

In Finland where children have been given two doses of MMR since 1982, reactions reported after MMR were followed up. There were no reports of permanent damage due to the vaccine. A special study in Finland also showed no link between MMR and autism or Crohn's disease. The Finland study which was partly funded by the vaccine manufacturer Merck Research Laboratories and published in the Lancet, May 1998; Research Letters, looked at 31 children who had gastrointestinal symptoms between 20 hours to 15 days following MMR vaccination. Hib meningitis vaccine was given at the same time in four cases. There were only fifteen boys and sixteen girls reported with these symptoms from the three million MMR vaccinees. Twenty out of the thirty one children were hospitalised. Five had febrile seizures (16%), four had pneumonia (13%), three had urticaria (10%), one had Guillian Barre syndrome (paralysis syndrome), one had ataxia (loss of bodily functions), two with tonsillitis, three with otitis media (ear infections), two with conjunctivitis (eye infection), two with lymphadenopathy (lymph gland infection), thirty had fever. One developed Hib meningitis and one developed meningococcal meningitis. It appears from this limited study that these particular children suffered no permanent damage due to the vaccine - I am not sure parents will feel reassured!

JABS welcomes any study into the side effects of vaccines. Whilst the limited information from the Finnish study is interesting, isn't it about time that a truly independent team of researchers was instructed to investigate British children who have suffered severe disability or have died as a result of the British vaccine programme.

Wouldn't it be better for children to have the vaccines separately?

No. Giving the vaccines separately would leave children exposed to measles or mumps or rubella. These can be serious and even fatal. Why expose children who have had the natural disease or run no risk from the disease to a potential side effect from the combined vaccine which can also be serious or even fatal?

It has been said that giving the three viruses together overloads children's immune systems. Studies show this is not the case and children's immune systems make excellent responses, protecting them against these diseases. Where are these studies? Parents should ask their GP for copies of them before making vaccination decisions!

The leaflet carries this personal endorsement from the former Chief Medical Officer, Sir Kenneth Calman:

"The decision to immunise your child is never simple. The recent publicity around MMR has, I know, left many of you unsure about what is best for your child's health. This leaflet aims to help you by providing clear,scientifically based advice on MMR vaccine. In March 1998, I called a meeting of 37 independent experts to examine all the evidence. They advised me that there is no evidence of any link between MMR and Crohn's disease or autism. The experts also advised that children should still continue to have MMR as usual. This meeting of the Medical Research Council was called to review Dr. Wakefield's published 'Lancet' paper which is not quite the same as 'to examine all the evidence'. MP's, solicitors nor representatives of concerned parents were invited to address or even attend the meeting. The CMO has said he is willing to examine all the evidence, he says there is no scientific evidence and refuses to examine the 'anecdotal' evidence.

I am concerned that some children might be put at increased risk by having separate measles, mumps or rubella vaccines in place of MMR. If children are not protected as soon as possible, then they are at risk of these serious diseases. All the evidence I have seen supports the use of MMR as recommended. During the House of Commons meeting in October 1997, the Minister for Public Health, Tessa Jowell and Sir Kenneth were presented with lists of the children believed to have suffered severe adverse reactions or died following MMR and MR vaccinations. To date none of the families have been approached to take part in any DoH investigation. It appears that the government is more concerned about the minimal time risk of leaving out elements of the vaccine than any of the adverse side effects of the vaccine on children!

MMR is the safest way for you to protect your children against measles, mumps and rubella." Before the meeting at the House of Commons the DoH Chief Medical Officer could possibly have stood by this statement. However, everyone who attended the meeting was made fully aware of the seriousness of the problems reported to JABS; the wholly ineffective monitoring system which continues to fail our children; and that plainly there was an acceptance of vaccine-induced injury as some of JABS families have been awarded the Government's vaccine damage payment. Payments have been made for various adverse effects including: epilepsy, Guillain Barre syndrome, SSPE (a brain wasting condition), neurological damage, profound deafness and death.

jackie@jabs.org.uk © John Fletcher 2012