Parents 'not told about side-effects of child vaccines'

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The Independent Online
PARENTS are not being given enough information about possible risks of having their babies and young children vaccinated, according to a report published today.

Although all vaccines can have minor side-effects and some have a very small risk of serious side-effects, including meningitis and brain damage, it is hard for parents to get information, says Which? Way to Health, published by the Consumers' Association.

'The standard leaflet given out by health visitors isn't very comprehensive - it has virtually no data on the incidence of side-effects, for example,' the magazine says. 'And GPs can't claim total impartiality in giving advice, since they have incentives to immunise (a bonus payment if they vaccinate 90 per cent of the babies on their lists).'

Jane Chumbley, assistant editor of Which? Way to Health says that getting a thoroughly objective analysis seems impossible. The magazine calls for a large-scale review of information on the risks and benefits of vaccination.

The Government accepted that a risk existed in 1979 when it introduced the Vaccine Damage Payments Act. About 800 claims have been approved.

Last week, the Government launched the Hib vaccine for a range of illnesses including a severe form of meningitis which affects about 800 children a year of whom 65 die and about 150 will be permanently brain damaged.

The Hib vaccine is said to be very safe. But although Which? criticises the Department of Health and health professionals it takes the view that the 'risks of serious, permanent damage from a vaccine appear to be very slight'.

The magazine says that there is 'probably' no cover up since millions of children are vaccinated each year - a sufficient number for problems to emerge.

It warns that no vaccine is completely free of side-effects but points out that calculating the severity is not easy since the commonest side-effects - high fever, irritability and fits - are prevalent in young children.

One estimate of the risk of a previously normal child having a fit following the whooping cough vaccination was one in 110,000. The risk of permanent brain damage was one in 330,000.

The researchers say that there has been too little study of minor side-effects. In the meantime they advise parents to ask questions of GPs and health visitors and write down what side-effects they might expect. 'Watch your child closely for abnormal behaviour and contact your GP if you are concerned,' the magazine says.

Last month the Department of Health withdrew two brands of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine after they had been linked with meningitis.

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