SUNDAY DECEMBER 30 2001
Drug firm adds fourth vaccine to MMR jab
JONATHAN LEAKE AND ROSIE WATERHOUSE\
A BRITISH drug company is working on plans to add a fourth vaccine —to treat chickenpox — to the MMR triple jab against measles, mumps and rubella. GlaxoSmithKline is carrying out clinical trials with the four-part jab and has applied for a licence for a single vaccine against chickenpox.
British youngsters are not routinely immunised against chickenpox but some experts believe it would bring benefits. About 25 people, mostly adults, die from it in Britain each year, more than from measles, mumps and whooping cough combined. Some research has tentatively linked the MMR vaccination with the onset of autism in a small number of children. Studies have been unable to confirm or refute the link but many parents have become so worried that they refuse to have their children vaccinated. Tony and Cherie Blair have been under pressure to say whether their baby Leo has had the jab.
David Salisbury, the head of immunisation at the Department of Health. has said there is a case for vaccinating against chickenpox and that it could be added to the MMR jab. The department says, however, that any such move is a long way off, a position confirmed by GlaxoSmithKline.
“We are trialling a single vaccine for measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox in Europe but it is several years away from any introduction to regular use,” it said.
In a separate move, the health department has refused to withdraw infants’ vaccines containing mercury, despite a nationwide ban in America that will be imposed next year over safety fears.
Doctors in Britain are being instructed to use up old stocks, even though the same vaccines are available without mercury. The ruling ignores the advice of the American Institute of Medicine that supplies should be withdrawn because of fears that the vaccines could cause brain disorders
such as autism.
As a result, in America the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have agreed that vaccines containing mercury will no longer be used for children from March.
A growing number of researchers in Britain and America are concerned that vaccines containing mercury, which is highly toxic, may cause autism in a small number of children. They believe an accumulation of mercury, contained in a preservative called thiomersal, may directly cause brain damage and harm the child’s immune system. A weakened immune system may mean that the body cannot cope with the three live viruses contained in the MMR vaccine. The MMR jab may then itself trigger autism, even though it does not contain mercury.
The only routine immunisation that British children are currently given containing mercury is the joint one for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Some also receive other jabs with mercury, such as flu and hepatitis B.