Parents of damaged children fight on

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PARENTS WHO claim their children were damaged by the MMR vaccine declared yesterday that they would continue their fight for compensation despite government reassurances over the safety of the vaccine.

Campaigners insisted the Government was bound to put the safety of the population above that of individuals and could not be impartial where issues of public health were at stake. The response suggests the Government faces an uphill task rebuilding confidence in the triple MMR vaccine.

Richard Miles, a London antiques dealer whose son Robert, 11, has autism and bowel disease that developed after his MMR vaccination, said he remained deeply sceptical of the Government's capacity to tell the truth. "Every time research has been published suggesting there could be problems with MMR the Health Department has jumped forward to protect the uptake of the vaccine. They have not taken our concerns seriously at all."

Those concerns have led thousands of parents to request single vaccines for their children in the hope that this would lessen any risk, however slight or theoretical. But yesterday the Government dashed their hopes by ruling out the provision of single vaccines in the UK. No country in the world that uses the MMR vaccine also provides single vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella, Jeremy Metters, the deputy chief medical officer, said. Spacing the vaccinations over a period of time was riskier than having them together in a single shot.

Children waiting for their second and third jabs would be at greater risk of catching the diseases against which they were unprotected and of developing the complications associated with them.

"We believe, along with 33 countries in Europe, the US and others, that MMR is the safest way of protecting children," Dr Metters said.

Responding to this claim yesterday, Mr Miles said: "I am not reassured. Their motives are suspect. They have started from an entrenched position and they can't be impartial."

His three children had all been immunised and he was not anti-vaccine, he said. But the Government had to respond to parental concerns. People who denied there were any risks were ignoring the possibility that some children may be damaged.

Mr Miles and his wife, Sarah, are determined to win compensation for their son, whose problems developed shortly after he received the MMR vaccination in December 1989. Although he had been an alert, intelligent baby developing normally, after the jab he stopped using the few words that he had acquired and became unsteady on his feet. A decade later they discovered a Danish paper published in The Lancet suggesting a link between "gait disturbance" and MMR.

Robert is now at a school for children with special needswhere he is making good progress, his parents say. Mr Miles said: "Our main aim in life - we cannot speak for Robert - is that we want justice. We know there is smoke and all we are asking is: is there a fire?"

Jackie Fletcher, spokesperson for Jabs, the charity that has campaigned for better compensation for vaccine- damaged children, said she believed the researchers had looked at the wrong children. "We have got 1,800 families in contact with us and we have been calling for them to be examined and research undertaken. We have got families prepared to shout from the rooftops how they were progressing before the vaccination and how their problems developed afterwards. We want them to investigate these children and explain why they failed to move on."