Health: Films of babies to be used in evidence over vaccine damage

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The Independent Online
Parents are to use homemade videos of their healthy babies as evidence that they were permanently damaged by a controversial vaccination. Ian Burrell reports on growing concerns over the jab designed to protect children against mumps, measles and rubella.

The family camcorder recorded that baby Matthew Poulter was passing all his milestones well before his time. He was cruising across the furniture by seven months and walking unaided within a few days of his first birthday. Then, when he was 15 months old, his mother took him for what she thought was a routine vaccination.

"I was just one of those mothers who thought vaccination was good for all,"Rochelle Poulter said. "I assumed that all the safety trials had been carried out and this was something safe and beneficial for my child."

The mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccination which Matthew was given is still staunchly defended by the Department of Health, as a vital element in the child immunisation programme. But growing numbers of parents believe that the jab has left their babies suffering from inflammatory bowel disorders, such as Crohn's disease, encephalitis and juvenile arthritis as well as autism.

Matthew now has both. Mrs Poulter, of Brighton, east Sussex, said: "He had been a sociable child but his speech just stopped. He was not saying anything, just grunts and moans." At other times, the seven-year-old throws violent tantrums, screaming bad language. At school he is on a par with the reception children, who are three years younger.

Mrs Poulter said: "I am convinced it was the MMR. There was no other trauma that could possibly have caused it."

Mrs Poulter's video recordings are to be submitted, along with those of 20 other children believed to be suffering from the effects of MMR, for analysis by Dr Simon Baron-Cohen, a psychologist from Cambridge University, who will assess their behaviour alongside that of apparently normal children and make a judgement as to whether their condition has deteriorated after having the jab.

Richard Barr, of Norfolk solicitors Dawbarns, who is representing 1,300 families seeking compensation, said: "The total contrast in some of them is astonishing."

The families are bringing a legal action against the Department of Health and three MMR vaccine manufacturers, Merieux, SmithKline Beecham and Merck Sharpe & Dohme.

A major study is expected to be published shortly into possible links between MMR, Crohn's disease and autism, following research by Dr Andrew Wakefield at the Royal Free hospital, north London.

Two forms of the MMR jab were withdrawn in 1992. The Merck product is still used. Campaigners are questioning Japanese officials to ask why Japan has withdrawn its combined MMR vaccinations.

Jackie Fletcher, a 40-year-old mother from Warrington, Cheshire, has formed the Justice, Awareness, Basic Support (Jabs) group to fight the MMR campaign. She claimed that the three vaccines together were too much for a child's immune system. She believes the vaccines should be given separately. She is confident that the video recordings will give the families vital evidence for their claim. "They are saying that the footage of their first birthdays shows them happy and joining in conversation. By the next year the child is starting to slip away, turning their back on everyone. It's like a slow withdrawal."

But Tessa Jowell, the health minister, believes that so far there is insufficient evidence to justify any change in the vaccination policy. The Department of Health pointed out that before the MMR vaccination around 100 children a year died from measles. Mumps, a common cause of viral meningitis, led to 1,200 hospital admissions a year before MMR.

Although the three diseases are now extremely rare, officials say that without the vaccines they will return. Sir Kenneth Calman, the chief medical officer, said the benefits of MMR were overwhelmingly clear and there was no doubt that parents should continue to have their children immunised. He said that risks from the vaccine were extremely small but risks from the diseases were considerable.

Sir Kenneth added: "A rigorous scrutiny of the evidence by both the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and the World Health Organisation established that there was no link between the MMR vaccine and autism and Crohn's disease."