Families plan court action on vaccines

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The Independent Online
EIGHT FAMILIES have lodged writs in the High Court this week in what could become a huge legal battle to prove that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab has damaged hundreds of children.

A further 350 families have been granted legal aid to fight for compensation for their children, solicitors said. Many of them are likely to be among the 700 people attending a debate in London today looking into the evidence about vaccines.

Richard Barr, the solicitor co-ordinating the action, said that more than 1,000 parents had now come forward claiming that their children had been damaged by the jab.

"I was initially sceptical," he said. "But over the last two to three years I've been involved, I have come to the conclusion that something needs investigating. I think it is no longer good enough to say that these all cases are just a coincidence."

He said that, if successful, compensation figures could reach millions of pounds. "These are very serious cases. These children will be dependent for the rest of their lives. These parents feel outraged."

The debate over the vaccines intensified earlier this year after researchers at the Royal Free Hospital, in London, published a study of 12 children with bowel disease and autism in The Lancet which suggested there might be a connection with the vaccine.

As a result, in some areas of the country, up to 25 per cent of parents have refused permission for their children to have the triple vaccine.

But a subsequent meeting of 37 scientists, brought together by the Medical Research Council, concluded there was no reason to change current vaccination practice. Two months later, The Lancet reported that researchers from Helsinki University had traced children who received the vaccine over a period of 14 years, between 1982 and 1996, but had found no cases of autism or any similar syndrome.

Dr David Elliman, who will be speaking at today's debate, organised by the newsletter What Doctors Don't Tell You, said that "there was a problem with perception, not with the reality. The trouble is parents have been scared."

Dr Elliman, who has worked as an immunisation co-ordinator for 10 years, firmly supports the use of vaccination.

But Jackie Fletcher of Jabs (Justice, Action, Basic Support) disagrees. She is one of the parents to have been granted legal aid for her son, Robert, seven; but she says he has lost speech and communication skills after having the vaccine.

"We went to see the Department of Health last year but they have not done anything," she said. "They are refusing to investigate our children, and thus refusing to improve things for other people's children."

Lynne McTaggart, author of What Doctors Don't Tell You, said she hoped the debate would be "a fair fight".

"We want to look at whether vaccines are safe and effective," she said. "We want to hear the evidence from both sides of the debate."