This story is in the U.K. version of the Huffington Post. The article, Law Firm Faces Legal Action Over Handling Of MMR Vaccine Case, brings the question of MMR litigation back up, but in a different way. First, the families are claiming that encephalitis, not autism, was the claimed injury. Second, they are suing the law firm that handled the case, not the vaccine manufacturers.
Three families who claim their children suffered a potentially fatal illness from the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine are suing a law firm they say grouped them with a now discredited case over a link between the jab and autism.
A case was brought against the manufacturers of the MMR jab – Smithkline Beecham, Smith Kline & French Laboratories and Sanofi Pasteur MDF – in 2007, over claims that the jab caused autism in children. However three families who say the vaccine caused encephalitis in their children, not autism, believe they were unable to claim compensation because of the way the case was dealt with.
Note that the Huffington Post has the dates wrong in the section quoted above. The case was brought in the late 1990’s and abandoned in 2003 when lack of evidence resulted in a loss of public funds to support the investigation further.
The BMJ also covers the story, noting that in 2002 the then chairman of the UK’s Committee on Safety of Medicines, Alasdair Breckenridge, said: “There is sound evidence that mumps vaccine containing the Urabe stran of virus is associated with a risk of meningitis and [has} no proven additional benefits. The risk to children of a potentially serious neurological complication makes its use unacceptable.”
Since the focus here at Left Brain/Right Brain is primarily autism, and the Wakefield case has been discussed (and discussed, and discussed), I expect that most readers know the basic story. But, indulge me for a moment while I give a short history.
Back in the mid-1990’s, some families believed that MMR caused their child’s autism. They sought both legal and medical expertise to pursue their case. The legal end was led by Richard Barr of the firm Alexander Harris. For medical expertise, they (parents and leagal team) approached Andrew Wakefield, a research gastroenterologist who had just recently implicated the measles vaccine in Crohn’s disease.
After Mr. Wakefield and his team published their first paper in The Lancet in 1998 (a paper since retracted), he became even better known for his views on MMR. Sometime after this, attorney Richard Barr was contacted by a public health insider with concerns about the MMR. Mr. Barr and Mr. Wakefield met with this “whistleblower” in secret.
The thing is, the concern was about encephalitis from the mumps component. Not autism from the measles component, as was Mr. Wakefield’s hypothesis.
The meeting between Mr. Wakefield and this gentleman became known only recently, 1998, while Mr. Wakefield faced charges before the General Medical Council. Mr. Wakefield released details of his story and threatened to disclose the name of the “whistleblower”. Mr. Wakefield later followed through on this threat.
This raises very important questions. Most notably, why didn’t the legal and scientific team working on MMR litigation follow up on the mumps/encephalitis question? The idea was known to Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Barr. The MMR litigation went forward with the theory that the measles component was causing autism, and failed.
And now some parents consider these events to be a strong enough case to sue a law firm handling their case: Alexander Harris.
The families claim the MMR vaccine brought neurological injury and are suing the law firm that brought the original litigation against the vaccine’s manufacturer.
As part of the group autism case, the families claim they were deprived of the compensation likely to come from bringing individual actions.
Mr. Wakefield’s discussion of his meeting with the “whistleblower”, together with commentary from Brian Deer, is in the video below:
While Mr. Deer focuses on how Mr. Wakefield is treating the “whistleblower”, another big question is left open by this discussion: did Mr. Wakefield act on the information he was given? Did the attorneys? The secret meeting in the train station makes a rather dramatic story, but it doesn’t really reflect well on Mr. Wakefield.