MMR in Japan


The Informed Parent March 2001

Transcript of a Channel 4 news broadcast.

31/1/01, presented by Ian Williams in Osaka, Japan.

Scene opens with a film of parents and their child looking at a photograph album.

Ian W: "The reality of their terrible loss emerges. They had a son and when he was 21 months old they took him for an MMR vaccination. (Close up of photo of unconscious infant with naso-gastric tube in situ). Two days later he was in a coma from which he never recovered. That was eight years ago and still the family is fighting for proper compensation from the Japanese government."

Kayoka Kinoshita (mother): "We are the victims, not only of that vaccine, but of a failure to make proper information about possible side-effects available to us. It fills me with resentment and anger."

Shot of nursery school. Children being served with food and eating lunch.

Ian W: "Nursery schools used to help organise mass vaccinations and for 4 years, from 1989, MMR was recommended by the authorities until, that is, the evidence of side-effects could no longer be ignored. More than anybody else it was Shunsuke Fuji who battled to extract and then publish information from Japan’s secretive and high-handed bureaucrats".

Shot of book-lined, untidy office in the Osaka Inoculation Information Centre where a telephone is ringing.

Shunsuke Fuji walks in and picks up the telephone, listens, then says:

"If your child’s already two, even catching measles wouldn’t be so serious, so why bother with an inoculation?"

Ian W: "The authorities eventually admitted that more than 1000 people suffered side-effects from MMR, mostly meningitis. Three died before the drug was withdrawn in 1993".

Shunsuke Fuji: "They began using MMR in April 1989 and by July doctors were already warning of side-effects, but the government didn’t take any notice because it was not convenient for them. They kept using it for another 3 years, securing the profits for the manufacturers".

Shot of childrens’ playground and children playing.

Ian W: "The problem was pinned on the mumps component of the inoculation which was changed and which is not used in Britain. But the damage had been done by the vaccine and by the government’s sloppy response. Parents no longer trust any MMR so doctors in Japan now give a separate measles inoculation to children between the ages of one and six years old. It is given as a single shot: no boosters are necessary. They do accept that Japan’s rate of measles is high - 4,500 cases and 69 deaths between 1994 and 1998, but doctors here claim it was high even when MMR was used and they strongly reject British criticism of the single vaccine".

Shot of clinic at Osaka Red Cross Hospital with Dr Hidebeko Yamomoto drawing up a syringe of dear liquid.

Dr Yamamoto: "The reason there are more measles cases here compared with other countries is not that we use the single measles inoculation but because we only give it after the child is one year old. That is the problem. The measles cases usually originate in children in under one year and spreads from them, so we should really think about giving the jabs earlier".

Change of scene to childrens’ playground. Little girl on swing being pushed by father.

Ian W: "Not only has Japan abandoned MMR in favour of the single measles shot, but this has had a wider impact. Such is public disillusion with what’s seen as dishonest, bungling bureaucrats that it has undermined public confidence in vaccination.

When Mayu (close up of little girl on swing) was born six years ago, her parents were wary of all vaccines. They insisted on an allergy test before a measles jab. This proved positive. A full inoculation might of killed their daughter. Last year, though, Mayu contracted a serious dose of measles. Thankfully, she fully recovered. Her parents’ opinions have hardened: like a growing number of Japanese they would rather risk illness than vaccines".

Tomoko Kitakata (Mayu’s mother): "I have a distrust and fear about putting dangerous things into the body. I also doubt whether the answers from the government are true - or even from doctors - because they all say something different. We have to make our own choice".

Ian W: "Like everywhere, the overwhelming concern of parents here is the health of their children. But Japan’s experience with vaccines and the response of the authorities has hardly inspired confidence".

Editor: This transcript was put together by a TIP subscriber and sent in. Many thanks.