It’s been a bad news week for MMR.
Even aside from the general stirring-up of vaccination angst following the government’s announcement of yet another vaccine being added to the programme, there have been the odd MMR-specific stories…
There is the tiny baby given MMR by mistake at her Scottish GP surgery.
(Note to self – always check the bottle personally before allowing anything to be injected into my baby. The only worry then is to make sure that the label and contents match… But I imagine that drug companies have extraordinarily rigorous controls to prevent contamination or mix-ups, and no doubt the error rate is extremely low, so I will try not to worry too much about this one.)
Then there is the newly released “secret” government report showing that 18 babies died in the years 2001 to 2004 following a suspected vaccination reaction. Four of those followed MMR vaccinations. One died of SIDS, two deaths were unexplained and one baby died of meningitis. In each case, the baby’s doctor filed a report due to suspicion that the death might have been linked to the MMR vaccination. There were also 800 other serious suspected reactions reported, including 160 suspected MMR reactions.
(NB No link is proven in any individual case, and I do not know the extent to which investigations and/or post mortem examinations were undertaken to confirm the true causes of the illness or death.)
Some people suggest that vaccine reactions are under-reported and perhaps massively so. Reports are usually only filed if the doctor in question actually suspects that a reaction has occurred. Some doctors might not see a particular event as linked to a vaccination, and so might not report it. The prevailing view that “vaccines are safe” may influence doctors by preventing them from seriously considering the possibility of a vaccine reaction when babies fall ill or die unexpectedly. Some guess that doctors fail to report as many as 50% of vaccine-related deaths and up to 90% of other serious reactions but, for obvious reasons, the true level of under-reporting cannot be ascertained.
Prof Peter Openshaw, a leading immunologist from Imperial College London, said: “A lot of vaccine reactions are just inexplicable… But vaccines are extraordinarily safe compared to the diseases they prevent.”
A spokesman from the Department of Health said: “Immunisation programmes are regularly reviewed to ensure that all children have the best possible protection.”
I am not filled with that nice, warm feeling telling me my concerns are valid and deserve a proper answer from people who understand my worries. More like: “We know best! Vaccines are safe! How many times to we have to tell you!?”
I think you may have to tell me as many times as it takes to convince me that my daughter isn’t going to be the one in a million that dies, or suffers irreversible serious brain damage and that MMR is a low risk option, when one or more UK children die each year after MMR reactions and no UK children die from the diseases the vaccine is supposed to prevent.
Maybe I can be convinced, but trotting out the same old glib non-answers is not going to do it.
Finally, a health columnist in the Telegraph neatly reflects the general unease.