Private Eye, March ‘01, 2001

While more GPs are turning against the controversial triple MMR vaccine in favour of single measles, mumps and rubella jabs given at intervals, it has emerged that doctors in one London health authority are being urged to give toddlers two doses of the MMR vaccine only three months apart.

Nowhere else in the world are repeat doses of MMR being given at such close intervals to children aged between one year and 18 months. And as far as the Eye can ascertain there has been no trial to show it is safe to do so. Usually children are given the first MMR jab at around 12 to 15 months of age and the second one not until they are about to go to school.

However, Merton Sutton and Wandsworth health authority has embarked on the scheme to improve "herd" immunity. The swift second dose is supposed to catch the 10 to 15 per cent of children who will not have become immune to measles mumps or rubella after the first jab.

The man behind the scheme is David Elliman, a consultant in child health at St George’s hospital, Tooting, and the area’s immunisation coordinator. He is also a keen proponent of MMR and an equally fierce critic of those who have raised doubts over the vaccine’s safety. According to one of his research papers on concerns about immunisation, Elliman has also been sponsored to speak at educational meetings and has conducted research financed by vaccine manufacturers.

Last week he told the Eye that although he knew of nowhere else giving double MMR doses in this way, he had absolutely no safety concerns about the policy and there was to be no special monitoring. He said his concern was to stop the known potentially fatal and serious consequences of contracting measles, mumps or rubella and suggested intervals between the two MMR vaccines was for convenience not safety: any reaction to vaccines tended to be less the second time round; and health guidelines recommend a minimum gap of three months.

Other experts in the field are known to share Dr Elliman’s views. However, the news has horrified parents, and a growing number of experts who believe the jab is responsible for triggering a devastating reaction in some children whose immune system cannot cope.

Two are Cardiff pharmacists Julie and Peter Loch, whose four-and-a-half-year old son Oliver has both the rare bowel disease and unusual regressive autism identified by Andrew Wakefield when he first raised concerns about MMR two years ago.

At 14 months of age Oliver was a thriving toddler who had passed all the physical and developmental milestone He then had his first MMR jab and within weeks started showing signs of both developmental and behavioural regression. His vocabulary slipped away and he was silent for nine or 10 months. He also started showing signs of serious bowel disorder. He became irritable and miserable and as he has grown older he has become more aggressive and more challenging. He cannot be left alone for a minute.

"I am completely and utterly convinced that Oliver’s condition was caused by MMR - and there are thousands of other parents who are reaching similar conclusions about the children’s unusual conditions," says Mr Loch.

Curiously the measles virus has been found in Oliver’s bowel tissue, suggesting that far from giving Oliver immunity from the disease, the MMR vaccine (Oliver’s only exposure to the virus) appears to have caused it to act abnormally in his body.

Oliver is not alone Studies in Ireland, Japan, the US and the UK are currently uncovering the presence of a live measles virus in dozens of autistic and bowel diseased patients - cases which may yet prove the link between MMR, gut disease and regressive autism still so vehemently refuted by government health officials.

In the US Dr Vijendra Singh, of Utah State University, has also found that MMR. appears to trigger an auto-immune reaction in some children which affects a protein, vital for the development of properly functioning brain cells. The good news for some families is that by adopting a strict diet, the effects on the brain can hi reduced and in some cases the autistic symptoms reduced or reversed - but so far not unfortunately for Oliver. The bad news is that no one has yet found a way to rid the body of the measles virus.

"With the huge explosion in regressive autism in recent years, I think it grossly unfair, insulting and morally reprehensible to dismiss these observations as ‘anecdotal’," says Mrs Loch. "If ministers are committed to reassuring the public of vaccine safety, then it (the government) should demonstrate clearly an alternative mechanism by which all of these children have fallen ill."

However, the government and health officials still appear determined to continue to pour scorn on the work of Andrew Wakefield while pouring 3 million pounds into a publicity campaign promoting the triple vaccine. They also appear determined to stop parents and doctors obtaining single vaccine alternatives. The London-based Direct Health 2000 has been told it can only obtain 25 single dose vaccines a month. It has 14,000 children on its books, each with a special need such as egg allergies, who need a single dose.

In the US, however, Wakefield’s work is being taken far more seriously. He has already addressed a special congressional hearing looking into vaccine safety, and this week is due to make a presentation to the Institute of Medicines immunisation safety review committee, which is looking specifically at MMR and autism. Here in the UK, while he is being rubbished by the government’s health mandarins and experts, the all-party parliamentary group on autism has also invited llim!o speak.

To cause further dismay, news of the double doses of MMR being administered by Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth health authority comes in the same month that MMR has been shown to be linked to a rare bleeding disorder in children.