Children's vaccine is safe, say experts

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The Independent Online
A GROUP of 37 scientific experts has concluded that the combined MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella is safe after reviewing all the evidence linking it with bowel disease and autism.

There was no evidence to indicate any link between the vaccine and the disorders and there was no reason to change the current policy of giving MMR vaccination to children in the second year of life, the experts agreed at a meeting organised by the Medical Research Council.

The MRC assembled the experts from across the country for the special closed meeting on Monday at the request of the Government's Chief Medical Officer, Sir Kenneth Calman. Sir Kenneth asked for the meeting, whose findings were released yesterday, after research published last month in the Lancet, suggesting a possible link between the vaccine and the diseases, led to a sharp fall in mothers coming forward to have their children vaccinated.

The chief author of the Lancet paper, Dr Andrew Wakefield, of the Royal Free Hospital, attended the MRC meeting and presented the results from his published and unpublished research. Although the paper, signed by 12 co-authors, had said that no causal link between MMR vaccine and bowel disease and autism had been established, Dr Wakefield told a press conference called to publicise the paper at the time that in his opinion the three component vaccines should be given separately to reduce the impact on the child's immune system. Reports of his remarks triggered widespread alarm among parents and supplies of the separate vaccines were quickly exhausted.

Dr Wakefield was unavailable for comment yesterday. A statement from the Royal Free medical school said it agreed that the policy on MMR vaccination should not be altered.

Sir John Pattison, the eminent microbiologist and government adviser on BSE and CJD, who chaired the meeting, said the benefits of MMR vaccination far outweighed the risks and there was no medical justification for giving the vaccines separately. "Children of that age are getting infection after infection. That is part of their development. What is the evidence that [giving the MMR vaccines together] is a bad thing to do? There isn't any."

At a later press conference yesterday, Sir Kenneth said the fall in vaccination rates following the Lancet paper was a "very serious issue" but he ruled out making the three vaccines available to parents who requested them. That would mean children having three injections instead of one and exposed them to the risk of going for two years without at least one vaccine during a critical period.

Jabs, the organisation representing parents who believe their children have been damaged by vaccination, criticised the findings. Jackie Fletcher, the group's spokeswoman, said: "We're concerned that this seminar was just a one-day workshop and there was certainly not sufficient time to properly look at the issue. We are calling on the Government to hold a proper open forum where experts can be invited from abroad."