Health chiefs review vaccine after 4,750 adverse reactions
(Western Daily Press, UK. June 10, 2000)

THOUSANDS of children have fallen ill after meningitis vaccinations, it was revealed last night.

Health officials are now reviewing the use of the meningitis C jab which has caused youngsters to suffer fits, severe headaches and other symptoms.

The Western Daily Press highlighted concerns after a growing number of cases were reported in the region.

The Department of Heath has admitted that more than 4,750 youngsters have reacted badly to the injection since its introduction last September. Experts say they are still assessing the risks.

While health experts are still stressing the benefits of the jab, the Medicines Controls Agency has registered more complaints about the injection in a matter of months than other vaccines which have been around for more than 35 years.

The Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) jab was introduced in 1987 but has received just 3,300 reports of problems in 13 years — 1,400 fewer than the meningitis C has had in a matter of months.

A spokeswoman said the number of adverse reactions was still relatively low but confirmed officials were looking at whether the benefits still outweighed the risk of harm.

"Since November 1999, large numbers of people have been given the vaccination and it is often only when more people are using it that any safety issues arise," she said.

"A major review is underway to look at whether the safety risk outweighs the benefits.

"We have received details of s number potentially serious but very rare reactions which includes allergic reactions.

"But you have to look at the risk of a reaction against the risk of catching meningitis and at the moment the balance is still in favour of vaccination."

Nationally, doctors and nurses have reported 4,764 adverse reactions to the drugs since the programme started last year —around one in every 3,000 cases.

The spokeswoman said the levels fell within the World Health Organisation’s ‘very rare’ category.

But she admitted the number of adverse reactions was high compared with the reports for other vaccines.

Just over 5,750 cases have been reported for the whooping cough vaccine since 1963, 3,300 cases for the controversial MMR vaccine launched in 1987 and a total of 1,200 for the measles and rubella vaccines launched in 1963 and 1970 respectively.

The Western Daily Press has been contacted by a steady flow of concerned parents since the first reports of problems in the region.

A number of schoolchildren have complained of illness in the weeks after the jab and have had to take time off school.

Sports-mad Ashley Howells, aged 12, suffered fits and has been away from Beaufort Comprehensive School, in Gloucester, for the last four weeks after a steady deterioration in his condition since Easter.

And although doctors say there is nothing linking Ashley’s illness with the vaccination, his mother Jean is calling for further investigations.

"Ashley was poorly afterwards. He had colds which he never gets, ear infections, headaches and kept falling asleep," she said.

"I put it down to the weather and his age but then he started having funny hand movements. I later learned these were seizures."

"About three and a half weeks ago he had a major fit. He just collapsed as he was going to play golf with a friend."

Ashley was admitted to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital for two days and placed on medication.

She said: "He is not well enough to go back to school. He still feels tired and unwell. If children are suffering from the effects of these vaccinations then I think it is something that needs investigating."

Another Bristol mother, who asked not to be named, said her 10-year-old son was still feeling ill more than six weeks after having his jab.

"He had the injection at school and the next day he went right down hill and has not been himself since," she said.

"It was a complete contrast, one moment he was happy and healthy and the next he was feeling sick all the time.

"Deep down I did not want him to have it but they make you feel guilty if you don’t."

Dr Mark Porter, from BBC’s Health Watchdog programme, said he had not seen any problems in his surgery at Locking Hill inStroud.

But he welcomed the news of the review saying it was important to keep a close eye on any mass-vaccination campaign.

"The programme was rolled out very quickly but it was tested on 20,000 people before it was brought in," he said.

"And when you are vaccinating 15 million people in a year you are bound to get the odd reaction.

"It is vital that the effects are assessed fully but! would be very surprised if they found any serious problems."

Julia Warren, from the Thornbury-based Meningitis Research Foundation, said:

"News of adverse reactions is concerning and they should be reported so scientists can look into it," she said. "But meningitis is an absolutely devastating disease and this vaccine is a huge step forward in saving lives."

•Has your child had an adverse reaction to the jab? Ring the Press newsdesk on 0117 9343223. The line will be open from 10am Sunday.