Jabs, autism and a shortage of public trust

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The Department of Health seems unable to grasp the scale of the public's concern about the manner in which its children are immunised. The announcement that, from later this year, children will be given a five-in-one injection containing a vaccination against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, haemophilus influenzae B and polio is not encouraging news for those who hoped the Government might have learnt something from the MMR fiasco. There are significant differences between the two immunisation procedures, but this move appears to be more evidence of the Government's disregard for suspicions that combining numerous vaccines in one injection might be related to the development of autism in boys.

The link between autism and the MMR jab has not been proven, but the Department of Health's refusal to offer parents the option of giving children single jabs, rather than combined, has generated a sense of mistrust. The public's fears may be groundless, but the Government does not have the right to impose its will on parents. It is all the more indefensible considering single jabs would be just as effective in protecting children from disease. The result of the Department of Health's intransigence on MMR, is that many parents have avoided getting their children vaccinated. The question now is whether the Government will learn from its mistakes, or whether it will inflexibly impose the new jab on parents.

Smuggled in with this new policy are some credit-worthy measures, such as the removal of the mercury-based preservative, thiomersal, from the existing whooping cough vaccine. Thiomersal has recently been linked by US researchers with autism, but that raises the question of why the Government has implicitly accepted the dangers of thiomersal, but dismissed similar fears about MMR out of hand?

Health campaigners are justified in demanding the Department of Health provide test results to support its decision to move to a five-in-one jab. They are also justified in demanding parents be offered single jabs if they want them. No matter how irrational the medical establishment considers such requests to be, it ought to have learnt by now that choice is an ally, not an enemy, in the battle against disease.