Mr Norman Baker (Lewes, Liberal Democrat)
Nineteen hours ago I was attending a breakfast meeting in Newhaven to discuss infrastructure works in my constituency. It seems a long time ago.
The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is a difficult subject, but it is extremely important for my constituents. I do not profess to be an expert on the matter but I shall do my best to represent constituents who have presented me with a compelling set of circumstances that I feel obliged to raise on their behalf in this debate. I do so with the full support and encouragement of my constituent, Isabella Thomas, on behalf of her children Michael and Terry. I hope that the Under-Secretary has received from my office information giving the history of events.
My constituent has four sons. The two older boys both caught measles during the first years of their life when the single vaccine against measles was not offered. They are both fine. However, the two younger boys both received the MMR vaccine and suffered severe reactions that dramatically changed their lives. Michael suffered mild asthma and breathing problems after his third diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis and polio vaccinations, but was developing normally before he was given the MMR vaccine at 14 months.
Within hours of the MMR vaccination, Michael developed high-pitched screaming and a high fever. According to my constituent, he was like a wild animal; he screamed when anyone touched him and cried day and night. He has been diagnosed with regressive autism and has an obsessive-compulsive disorder. He suffers from auditory hallucinations, increased clumsiness, chronic bowel disease, temperature control problems, severe headaches, loss of memory, breathing problems and rashes. Last year, he was unable to attend school very much due to his health problems. At present, he does not go to school, as no school can meet his needs. It is clear from a psychological report compiled this year that his condition is deteriorating. Medical test results have found the measles virus, consistent with the vaccine strain, in damaged tissue in Michael's bowel and in his blood.
Michael's younger brother Terry also suffered minor reactions to his DTP and polio vaccinations. He was prone to febrile convulsions, but otherwise he developed normally. He walked at 10 months and his development milestones were satisfactory according to his health visitor at the time.
As Michael had had such a severe reaction to the MMR vaccine, his mother was worried about giving Terry the same injection. However, under intense pressure, and after medical advice, she duly had Terry vaccinated. During the night after the vaccination, Terry suffered a fit and within a week he developed excessive temperature swings and loss of skills. Before the vaccination, he was potty trained, but he regressed the very next day. Within two weeks he began to suffer from constipation and chronic diarrhoea. Within a month he appeared clumsy and walked into doors. He stopped talking and would become completely silent. He no longer indulged in pretend play. He now suffers from fits, jaundice when ill, chronic bowel disease, very high fevers, rashes, regressive autism and excessive thirst. His medical test results show that he, too, has the measles virus, consistent with the vaccine strain, in the damaged tissue in his bowel.
As I said earlier, I do not pretend to be an expert in these matters. I merely consider the evidence as a layperson. The Minister may be able to give me some explanations but none has yet been forthcoming from the medical profession. Given the circumstantial evidence, the conclusions that my constituent has reached are hardly surprising.
My only previous involvement in the topic of vaccines was when I raised questions about bovine material in vaccines during an Adjournment debate in this place on
I need to know how these conditions developed in Michael and Terry. How can they be explained if they are not an adverse reaction to MMR? Should some other medical explanation be forthcoming? The injections were two years apart and the adverse reactions began immediately after the vaccine was administered, so the circumstantial evidence is quite strong.
My constituent, in a letter to me, says:
"I wanted to keep my children safe from disease and I trusted the system. I thought the system would be structured to protect my children as individuals. I have been naive. The system is structured to protect itself."
That is her view on the matter, and I hope that the Minister's response will go some way to reassure her and make her feel better about the situation in which she and her children now find themselves.
I know that the Minister is not responsible for the legal system and therefore cannot say much about that, but my constituent is in a difficult situation. Her anxiety and stress has been exacerbated by a change to the legal aid funding of the class action. Her sons were awarded legal aid to pursue their case for compensation through the courts, but after several years of legal aid, on
My constituent believes, rightly or wrongly, that the reactions that have been caused in her children and which have led to these, it seems, permanent conditions are a result of MMR. She holds that view very strongly and communicates it to those in the health service. She feels that because she holds that view, her children are effectively being denied effective treatment to deal with their conditions until such time as she is prepared to deny that MMR is the cause. That may be a misconception on her part, but that is what she believes.
Whatever else comes out of this, I hope very much that we can find a way of providing effective treatment to help those children, because their mother sincerely believes they have been effectively abandoned in many ways by the health service as a consequence of the situation that has arisen and as a consequence of the huge controversy surrounding MMR in the medical profession and society at large. No doctor, it seems, wants to be associated with cases that may be MMR-related—or at least are in the mother's view—in case somehow there is a problem from their perspective, so the children are effectively denied medical treatment that would help them.
I want to leave plenty of time for the Minister to reply so I will not speak for much longer. My constituent says that she thinks that the Department of Health has failed in its duty of care for her children. In a letter to me, she raises a number of points about the pre-introductory MMR trials, which she believes
"were inadequate in that they failed to follow up adverse reactions for more than just a few weeks."
She says that
"it took the Department four years to identify and withdraw two of the three original MMR brands that had been introduced into the UK vaccination programme in 1988".
I do not know whether that is true. She refers to the two brands Pluserix and Immravax, which she says were withdrawn in September 1992 because they contained a mumps strain that was apparently suspected of causing mumps meningitis. If the Minister has advice on that, I should be interested to hear it.
Is it possible, I ask the Minister, that there was an earlier strain of MMR that was, in her view, less satisfactory than the ones being used now? Would that be an explanation of the situation in which my constituent finds herself? In the opinion of the Department of Health, is there a difference in the safety of different strains or is it the Minister's view that they are all equally safe, as the Government maintain they are?
My constituent says that the vaccine policy makers failed by providing an inefficient monitoring system for adverse events following vaccination. To justify her position on that, she quotes a sentence published in The Lancet on
"There is an urgent need to find more reliable methods of adverse event surveillance."
Lastly, my constituent also believes that the Government's senior vaccine officers failed to investigate the children believed to have been damaged. She says that a full list of children then affected was presented to the then Health Minister, the chief medical officer and the principal medical officer during a one-hour meeting in 1997, when the Government were asked to instigate a scientific investigation of the children believed to have been damaged. Such an investigation would have been useful. Is the Minister aware of that meeting? If so, is she able to tell me what progress there has been as a result of the meeting?
I freely admit that, as the Minister will understand, I am not an expert in health matters—my expertise, such as it is, is in environmental matters—but my constituent is extremely distressed. She has two children whose lives have been changed for the worse—it seems, permanently. There is at least a casual link in her mind between the conditions that the children now have and the administration of the MMR vaccine.
The Minister will know just how difficult it is for parents to decide whether vaccinating their children is the right thing to do. There are risks in vaccinating and in not vaccinating. It is a very difficult decision, and my constituent feels that the medical profession encouraged her to take the wrong decision for her children. I hope that the Minister can deal constructively and sympathetically with my constituent's case and give some reassurances that I can take back to her.