1,000 Families Seek Compensation For Alleged Vaccine Harm

      [By Richard Woodman via Reuters Health, UK.]

      More than 1,000 British families have joined a legal battle for
millions of pounds compensation for harm they claim was caused to their
children by measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines, their solicitors said
on Monday.
      The case--which is scheduled to come to trial in February
2003--follows controversial research findings suggesting that use of the
vaccines could be linked to inflammatory bowel disease and autism.
      Two firms of solicitors, Alexander Harris and Freethcartwright, have
been appointed as the joint leading firms in the generic litigation against
Aventis Pasteur MSD, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck.
      A spokeswoman at Alexander Harris said that the firm represented about
1,000 families while the total number involved was probably around 1,500.
She said likely levels of compensation varied but could be worth several
million pounds for children with serious brain damage.
      The firm's Web site says that the case is being brought under the
Consumer Protection Act--part of the European Union's Product Liability
Directive that imposes liability on manufacturers of products for any injury
caused by an unsafe product. The families had been granted public funds to
pay for the legal action.
      The firm said that the UK Department of Health stopped using
SmithKline Beecham's Pluserix and Aventis Pasteur MSD's Immaravax in 1992,
two years after a similar vaccine containing the Urabe strain of mumps
vaccine virus was withdrawn in Canada after reports of meningitis.
      "After we had been contacted by several hundred families a clear
pattern began to emerge," the solicitors said. "Children who were developing
well, both physically and intellectually, before the vaccine, regressed
after vaccination, often accompanied by other symptoms and a gradual decline
into autism."
      They added: "It is important to stress that we appear to be dealing
with cases where the children, who were fit and well before being vaccinated
and were developing normally in every way, are now chronically ill and as a
result many are seriously mentally or physically disabled."
      A spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline said that all the manufacturers were
still trying to clarify exactly what was being alleged by the families. He
added that numerous studies had failed to show a link between MMR
vaccination and autism, and that the legal action would be defended.
      The Department of Health and the Medical Research Council have also
dismissed reports by researchers at London's Royal Free Hospital suggesting
that the triple vaccine may trigger autism. Copyright 2002 Reuters Limited