Five-in-one jab adviser has links to vaccine firm

By James Chapman

Political Correspondent

Daily Mail Aug 16, 2004

THE row over the new five-in-one jab for babies intensified last night as links were revealed between a key adviser to ministers and the drugs firm making the vaccine.

The chairman of the government committee that approved the inoculation is receiving financial support for his work from a com­pany involved in its manu­facture.

Professor Michael Langman, who heads the Joint Commit­tee on Vaccination and Immunisation, gets funding from Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) for his medical research at Birmingham University.

MSD and another drugs company, Aventis Pasteur, form Aventis Pasteur MSD, which will supply the five-in-one vaccine in Britain.

The Department of Health said last night that Professor Langman had declared all his interests in 'strict accordance' with the code of practice.

A spokesman said he had not received any personal benefit from Aventis Pasteur MSD since becoming commit­tee chairman.

The professor's interest Involved funding for a trial on colorectal cancer and advice for chronic digestive disease. All the funding went straight to the university.

'The code makes clear that in such cases of non-personal interest, it is not necessary for people to stand aside from the work of the committee,' added the spokesman.

Campaigners, however, said Professor Langman's links With MSD raised 'serious questions' about the independence of advice being given to the Government. Jackie Fletcher, founder of the vaccine support group Jabs, said: 'This raises serious questions about the integrity of committees, which are always billed as wholly independent.

'We have been campaigning for full transparency. The powers that be must be seen to be above any potential conflicts of interest.'

Tory health spokesman Andrew Lansley said: 'It would be preferable if decisions on vaccines and their use in the NHS were made in the same way as for other medicines -with an independent appraisal by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

'The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation does not have the degree of independence and transparency required.'

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow said: 'After all the confusion and contradictory advice over MMR and the five-in-one jab, it is vital parents feel they are being given the best advice. Reports of a conflict of interest will do little to help con­cerned parents make the right choice for their families.'

There have been growing concerns that links between government advisers and vaccine manufacturers pose potential conflicts of interest.

Last year a Daily Mail inves­tigation showed that at least 19 experts on committees had interests in firms supplying the triple measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

The decision to introduce the vaccine to protect against diphtheria, tetanus,, whooping cough, Hib - a bug which causes meningitis - and polio, was announced last week.

The change is being made so that babies are no longer exposed to the mercury-based preservative, thiomersal, which is contained in the existing whooping cough vaccine.

Health chiefs dismissed as 'baseless' claims by campaigners that the five-in-one vaccine could overload babies' immune systems.

The jab had been safely given to at least three million youngsters in Canada over seven years, they said. • MMR vaccination in the U.S. has virtually eradicated measles. Latest figures show that the 44 cases recorded in 2002 were the lowest number since the disease became nationally reportable in 1912. Most states make MMR compulsory before a child can start school.

In Britain, following a back­lash by parents against MMR amid fears of a link to autism and bowel disease, public health experts report that measles cases soared by 43 per cent last year.