Vaccine ban blow to fight against epidemic

The decision by Ampleforth and Stonyhurst, two leading Catholic schools in the North of England, to ban the combined measles/rubella vaccine because it is derived from aborted foetal tissue, is yet another setback in the Government's latest immunisation campaign.

In July, journalists were briefed by Dr Kenneth Calman, the Chief Medical Officer on a measles epidemic expected to hit Britain next year. To avoid the epidemic it had been decided to vaccinate up to 7 million school- age children in a 'blanket campaign' to protect those who had not already been vaccinated - or who had failed to develop immunity after their initial injection. The aim of the briefing was to spread information to parents.

But by the time the campaign was launched on 29 September, most people had forgotten the summer news stories. The launch took place after the sinking of the Baltic ferry, the Estonia, and received minimal media coverage.

Suddenly thousands of parents were being presented with forms from their children's schools asking their consent to the vaccinations, which start next week. Some refused their consent; many threw the forms away.

In the majority of cases the parents knew that their children had been vaccinated; they demanded to know why a second injection was necessary and if it posed an increased risk of side-effects. Family doctors were not prepared for the deluge of queries and the British Medical Association protested to Dr Calman early in October.

Then, earlier this month The Universe, a Catholic weekly paper, reported that the rubella part of the vaccine being used was derived from lung tissue taken from an aborted foetus. The source of the story is believed to be the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (Spuc), which had been researching the origins of vaccines for sometime.

A number of vaccines are derived from cell lines originating with two aborted foetuses, known as cell line MRC5 (some rubella, rabies, hepatitis A and oral polio vaccines) and cell line WI38 (some live polio vaccine, chicken pox, cytomegalovirus and rabies). MRC5 was a male foetus aborted in England in 1966; WI38 was a female foetus aborted in Sweden also in the Sixties.

After the Universe story appeared, parents contacted Ampleforth, North Yorkshire, seeking an opinion on the use of the vaccine. According to Fr Jeremy Sierla, head of Ampleforth College Junior School, many felt cheated.

They were being asked for 'informed' consent to vaccination without access to full information.

'We took action to confirm the Universe report and then took a decision not to use the combined vaccine but to use a measles vaccine only. We understood that general immunity to rubella in the population is very high - about 97 per cent - and that gave us the freedom to go with our conscience on this.

If I thought that pulling 420 boys out of the immunisation programme was going to cause widespread harm, then I'd be a fool and a blackguard.'

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