Mum's hope for jab compo breakthrough Mum's hope for jab compo breakthrough
A campaigning Wigan mum was today hoping for a major breakthrough in the rights of vaccine-damaged people.
MPs are debating amendments to a 36-year-old piece of legislation which Jackie Fletcher described as "grossly unfair" and a major factor in skewing national statistics about the safety of inoculations.
The Golborne-based founder of pressure group Jabs has been campaigning for the vaccine-damaged ever since her son Robert, now 23, was left with severe disabilities just days after receiving his MMR jab as a youngster.
It took Jackie and husband John 18 years to secure a modest compensation payout from the national Vaccine Damage Unit, and that was after they had to bring a solicitor, barrister and medical expert with them to fight their case.
The Fletchers argue that far too many restrictions are imposed on application criteria set out in the 1979 Vaccine Damage Payment Act which means many perfectly valid cases are ineligible.
At the recommendation of their local MP and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, Jabs contacted Russell Brown MP who is chairman of the all-party vaccine damage study group. And it is Mr Brown who was today instigating the adjournment debate in the House of Commons.
Amendments on the table aim to address the following issues:
* At present you can only apply to the unit when a child has turned two. Jabs points out that they have cases of children who have died from vaccines who have died before that age and so are ineligible.
* Under the current law a patient has to be deemed at least 60 per cent disabled to qualify. Jabs says it has many people on its books who are left severely disabled - including a woman no longer able to walk because of her HPV cervical vaccine - but fall just below the threshold and so miss out.
* Not all vaccines come under the jurisdiction of the act at the moment and Jabs feels that adults too should qualify as well as children. Mrs Fletcher cited the example of people inoculated for hepatitis B for work who suffer side-effects but do not qualify for payment.
* A perceived "gross inequality" of opportunity. Mrs Fletcher said that when people have applied to the unit they have expected to get a fair hearing with an independent expert as the arbiter. But she says it is "very adversarial" and recalls the time she and John applied. The assessor accepted that Robert was severely damaged and had been fine before his MMR and his injuries - caused by the sudden onset of frequent fits which have never stopped since - but then he asked the Fletchers to explain the biological mechanisms that led to Robert's brain damage. Not being neurological experts, they were unable to answer and so the case was thrown out.
Mrs Fletcher said she was hoping that today's debate would finally be the start of finding justice for countless families while giving a more accurate picture of vaccine damage in Britain.
She said: "The act as it stands is hopelessly restrictive and seems to fob off the majority of valid applications.
"We think the 60 per cent damaged threshold is ludicrous for a start. We have a lad who wanted to follow his father into the RAF but whose chances were ruined by polio which left one leg shorter than the other and the limb in a calliper. He applied to the unit and was told he was 50 per cent disabled because it only affected one leg so he didn't get anything.
"That sort of decision takes no account of the psychological and career-wrecking damage that the vaccine can also cause.
"If you were in a car accident, an insurance firm wouldn't refuse to pay out because you were less than 60 per cent damaged.
"Overall the criteria are far too strict and a knock-on effect of this is that it keeps the vaccine damage statistics artificially low.
"When the health chiefs talk about how safe vaccines are, it is based on skewed data. They say 'look how few payments there are, it must be safe.' But that's because so many perfectly valid applications are rejected."
After the debate - which is an airing of views, nothing more - a health minister will give an immediate oral response which may or may not involve a promise of further action.
With only one more week before Parliament breaks up in the run-up to the election, a House of Commons spokesman said that solid action, if any, was far more probable after the May polls and a new bill would need to go through Parliament, perhaps via private members or new government as outlined in the Queen's Speech.