Dangerous Jabs - The MMR Scare

By Rahab S. Hawa

In recent weeks, there have been renewed fears of the dangers of childhood vaccines reported in the international press.

In the UK, it was triggered by Dr. Andrew Wakefield's latest study published in Adverse Drug Reaction and Toxicologica Reviews Vol 19 No 4 December 2000, in which he had documented 170 cases of children who developed autism shortly after the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) jab.

'For MMR, autism and inflammatory bowel disease, a significant index of suspicion exists without adequate evidence of safety,' he concluded.

The public panic which ensued forced the UK government to launch an advertising campaign to reassure parents that the combined MMR vaccine is safe for children. Indeed, some parents with autistic children are suing the UK government for compensation.

Although the proportion of children immunised is currently 88 percent, down from 92 percent since 1998, vaccination in the UK has been falling, according to The Economist magazine (1st January) and continues to drop.

The alarm began three years ago when Dr. Wakefield and his colleagues at the Royal Free Hospital in London reported The Lancet in Feb 1998 that 12 children developed autism within two weeks or so of being given the MMR jab. They also had inflammatory bowel disease and behavioural problems.

The 12 children, who were referred to the hospital, had a history of diarrhoea and abdominal pain. In all the cases, the children had been developing normally when they suddenly lost their speech and other skills.

Eight of the 12 children developed autistic symptoms within 14 days of receiving their MMR jab. Five of the children had severe reactions, including fever, rash, delirium or seizures.

Most significantly, all 12 had intestinal abnormalities, with 11 showing patchy, chronic inflammation of the colon; seven exhibiting abnormal growths of small nodules of lymphoid tissue; and two suffering from thrush-like ulcers plus huge swellings in their small bowels.

Dr Wakefield, a gastroenterologist, stated that the evidence was strong enough to warrant further research into the links between MMR and bowel disease, and in turn, autism.

According to him, in children who are genetically susceptible to autism, the MMR vaccines may damage the intestinal function, which in turn could allow food by- products called peptides to pass through the intestinal walls, disrupting brain function and development.

In her book, The Vaccination Bible (1998), Lynne McTaggart cited the London- based firm of solicitors, Hodge, Jones and Allen - which had been contacted by some 1,500 families whose children have been allegedly affected by the vaccine - that half of their cases involve children who were developing normally but became autistic right after vaccination.

'Autism was the most common side effect reported to the solicitor's firm, occurring twice as much as any other serious side effect,' she said.

In fact, the firm's clients have videotapes of their child's development from birth, month after month, showing normal, healthy development up until the point of vaccination with MMR, usually at 12-15 months.

'By that time, the child is usually walking, may have a small vocabulary, and is pointing and interacting with the family. And then suddenly, in every one of these instances, the children have lost their speech and social interaction and made a sudden regression into behaviour patterns which are considered within the autistic spectrum,' she notes in her book.

In the US, the Institute of Medicine has concluded that the MMR vaccine may cause anaphylaxis, a life threatening allergic reaction and the causes of many other adverse outcomes could not be determined because of insufficient data.

These dangers also hold true for Hepatitis-B vaccines, according to the US Institute of Medicine. In fact, possible harm from a mercury-containing preservative in the Hepatitis-B vaccine has led to changes in the Hepatitis-B vaccine schedule.

These warnings were reported by Prof. Eric Hurwitz at the School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology, University of California, Los Angeles in the International Herald Tribune in February this year.

According to him, 'a recent study suggests that the most widely used current vaccines for whooping cough may be linked with anaphylaxis, while the chicken pox vaccine has revealed anaphylaxis, encephalopathy (a disorder affecting the brain) and other reactions'.

He disclosed that 'vaccine safety has taken a back seat to development and rapid deployment' and 'even today, we lack procedures for the systematic collection of valid long-term safety data'.

In his view, 'Links of the MMR vaccine and other immunisations with autism have been neither proved nor disproved because of inadequate data'.

'Similarly little is known about the potential long-term consequences of multiple and combination vaccines administered to US children,' he added.

'Thus, because of how vaccines are tested and marketed, without large long-term safety studies before widespread public school use, lack of confidence in vaccine safety may not be a misconception, but a scientifically justifiable concern'.

'There are insufficient data to accurately estimate the risks; current investigatory systems are not designed to assess the risks of rare events or adverse outcomes with long latent periods; and post-marketing surveillance is arguably still research,' he added.

Given the harm that childhood vaccines can cause, he calls for voluntary informed consent in US immunisation policies until 'we can predict which children are at risk from current and future vaccines'.

Vaccine risks were officially acknowledged by the US Congress when it passed a law in 1986 which requires doctors to tell parents about the benefits and risks of childhood vaccines before vaccination and to report vaccine reactions to federal health officials. The problem however, is that 90 percent of doctors do not report suspected vaccine damage, according to the US FDA.

In these 'mad cow and GM foods' times, when public confidence in officialdom is at an all-time low, and fears concerning childhood vaccines escalate in the North, vaccine companies will be positioning vaccines shots for Third World babies.

Already the Global Fund for Children's Vaccines is pledging US$50 million worth of vaccines and funding to 13 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America over the next five years.

The Global Fund was launched in late 1999 with a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donation of US$750 million. The Global Fund gives financial support to Third World countries to purchase new and under-used vaccines.

Northern governments, including the US, the UK and Norway, have pledged US$200 million to the Global Fund.

However, childhood diseases like mumps, measles and rubella are benign infections in healthy children. Children do not die of these problems when they are well-fed and healthy.

In the Third World, they are clearly diseases of poverty and deprivation. These are the real killers and the real solution lies in attacking them instead of tinkering with the symptoms selling vaccines.