Safe Or Sorry?

Published in the Journal of the Health Visitors’ Association

May 1996

Safe or sorry?

By Jackie Fletcher

In November 1994 seven million children aged 5 – 16 years were vaccinated in the national measles/rubella campaign. Now the government and the department of health are making plans to implement a routine measles jab for all children at 11 years. In the haste to move on to yet another vaccine programme, lessons are going unlearned.

The Committee on Safety of Medicines (C.S.M.) stated that serious reactions to the vaccine were very rare, but then admitted there had been 530 serious reactions. Given that the chief medical officer’s figure of ‘one in a million’ for vaccine encephalitis is usually quoted for adverse reactions and only seven million – not 530 million – pupils were vaccinated, there appears to be something wrong with their definition of ‘rare’.

The C.S.M. tried to qualify the statement by reporting that cases of encephalitis, convulsions and Guillain-Barre syndrome were lower than the background prevalence of those conditions. The actual numbers are irrelevant. If previously, healthy children reacted within the measles/rubella incubation period with symptoms and long-term problems listed in the drug companies’ own data sheets, the most important factor is whether the life-changing health problem was caused by the injection. This means research!

An editorial in the British Medical Journal (1) of 9 March 1996 states that ‘pre-licensure randomised placebo controlled trials are too small to detect rare events’, and that current data are ‘inadequate to accept or reject a causal relation’. Therefore it is absolutely essential, following such a massive trial, to determine precisely how rare is ‘rare’.

Many of the families of the 530 children affected have contacted JABS. Some have more than one child affected. A seven year old boy and his sister aged thirteen were vaccinated together; within two weeks he almost died from meningo-encephalitis and she developed chronic arthritis. Another teenager and his younger brother both developed severe inflammatory bowel disease.

Measles/rubella jabs are made from live attenuated viruses; their major disadvantage is a danger of reversion of the virus strains to more reactive and virulent forms. In plain terms, if the wild virus can cause inflammation in the brain, joints, spine, eyes, ears and bowel then so can the vaccine-virus.

The C.S.M. report also mentions that no child died. The life-threatening subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) has already been diagnosed in one young boy after the campaign, and his parents have been warned that he will die. The vaccine damage payment unit (a branch of the department of health) has accepted other cases of vaccine-induced SSPE, and awards have been made. If a measles vaccine has the potential to trigger dormant measles virus, whether wild or vaccine, then blood tests prior to the campaign would have been prudent. No child should be inadvertently exposed to the danger of SSPE.

Many JABS parents stated that blood tests carried out to diagnose the condition have revealed that their child was already immune to measles and/or rubella. Now their child has a rubella injury, Guillain-Barre syndrome, or arthritis. It adds insult to injury also to be told by health professionals that it was not considered cost-effective to offer the same blood test before the campaign, in order to identify the 10% of children deemed to need protection from measles.

When dealing with healthy children not otherwise expected to catch diseases, let alone die from them, all safety precautions should and must be taken. Vaccines should only be given if essential, and always in the safest way, to protect the individual child both from serious disease and from severe vaccine damage. The families of 530 children harmed in this campaign alone have reason to say lessons must be learned.

(1) Revaccination against measles. Editorial. B.M.J. 1996; 312:589. © John Fletcher 2012