MMR docs' links with drugs firms

Feb 29 2004

By Fionnuala Burke, Sunday Mercury

Four leading Midland doctors who deemed the controversial MMR vaccine safe have links to the drug giants who make or supply the jab.

Campaigners have called for the General Medical Council to investigate the senior Government advisors, who all hold scientific posts in the Midlands and sat on key committees which declared the vaccine safe.

Professor James Chipman from Birmingham University, a member of the Committee on Safety of Medicines, received research funding from GlaxoSmithKline, suppliers of the MMR vaccine Priorix.

Consultant cardiologist Dr Colin Forfar from John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, a shareholder in GlaxoSmithKline, is also a member of the influential committee.

Professor Terence Stephenson, from the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, sits on the same committee but his travel expenses are paid by the same drugs giant.

Professor Michael Langman from Birmingham University is the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

His team received research support from Merck Sharp and Dohme, which manufactures MMR vaccine.

Now Jonathan Harris, West Midlands campaigner for vaccination awareness group JABS (Justice Awareness and Basic Support) is calling for the GMC to investigate the work of the medics.

Only two of Mr Harris's six children had the MMR vaccine and both of them are autistic.

"A total of 19 Government experts are connected to the drugs industries that deal with the MMR vaccines," he said. "Shouldn't this be considered a conflict of interests?

"These experts are advising the Government about the safety of the MMR vaccine at the same time as receiving payments or holding shares in the companies selling the jab.

"The Government requested that the GMC investigate the work of Dr Andrew Wakefield, who first proposed the link between MMR and autism.

"They declared it was 'a matter of urgency' when it emerged that he had received funding from lawyers representing parents of children who felt they had been damaged by the vaccine.

"So why shouldn't they investigate these doctors who have links to the drugs industry while they are at it?"

The doctors' watchdog GMC agreed to consider a full investigation into the work of Dr Wakefield last week at the request of the Health Minister John Reid.

The medical researcher provoked a furore when he first proposed a link between MMR and autism in a paper published in The Lancet magazine in 1998. In a press conference later he also recommended parents opt for single jabs.

The editor of The Lancet has since said that he would not have printed the study if he had known Dr Wakefield had received funding for it from the Legal Aid Board. It emerged that Dr Wakefield received 55,000 from the Board to investigate claims by parents that their children had been damaged by the measles, mumps and rubella jab.

And the GMC has agreed to consider a full inquiry into the study following a request from the Secretary of Health John Reid stating that it "was a matter of urgency".

A spokesman for the GMC confirmed that the four Midland medics were registered with them but declined to say whether it would consider opening an investigation into their work and links with the drugs firms.

None of the doctors were available for comment last night. Their personal and non-personal interests have all been openly declared to the independent advisory committees on which they sit.


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