Children in Meningitis Jabs Alert
EXCLUSIVE BY ALUN REES
June 12, 2000
MAJOR safety concerns over a new meningitis vaccine are to be raised in Parliament this week after
5,000 children suffered adverse reactions to the new drug.
Some youngsters were so badly effected they had to be airlifted to hospital as health officials
gave conflicting accounts to the Daily Express about the extent of the problem.
The Chiron jab against the meningitis C strain of the brain infection was introduced a year ahead
of schedule last autumn in a programme aimed at immunising 13 million children.
It has been credited with a dramatic reduction in the number of new cases, but figures from the
Government's Medicines Control Agency also record thousands of complaints about side effects. These
include children having fits, severe headaches, and blackouts shortly after being injected with the
One disturbing element has revealed that the majority of complaints related to younger children
aged between 10 and 12.
David Drew, the Labour MP for Stroud and secretary of the all- party Commons meningitis
committee, is so concerned he will raise the case of Chiron in the Commons with the Department of
His Stroud constituency was the focus for a large cluster of cases in the early 1990s and it is
there that the Meningitis Trust was founded.
Mr Drew said yesterday: "I shall be putting serious questions to the Department of Health
when I return to the Commons tomorrow and I will table a written question. In the light of these
reported reactions I will be asking what measures will be taken.
"The Department of Health was pushed forcefully to bring the vaccination in as soon as
possible. There was pressure to inoculate students before they returned to university last
"It's difficult to say whether they were too hasty because they were under a lot of pressure
to get the programme in place.
"We were led to believe this vaccine had been extensively trialed and we have no reason to
think it hasn't been but if there are side effects we have to learn about them and think quite hard
about who gets vaccinated."
Shadow Health Secretary Dr. Liam Fox added: "Meningitis is a horrible disease that does
strike a lot of young people in this country.
"We take the view that the inoculation programme is of great importance in protecting
youngsters. Like the Department of Health we will be monitoring any developments closely."
The DoH confirmed it was monitoring the situation and in an extraordinary move denied an earlier
statement saying it was carrying out an urgent review of the immunisation programme.
A spokesman attempted to quell fears about a problem with the vaccine, telling the Daily Express:
"Thirteen million children and young people have been given this inoculation and we look at the
number of reactions in that light. Dr David Salisbury, the head of the programme, does not believe
there is a need to be concerned.
"I spoke to him before he flew off to the US this morning for a conference and he says he is
pleased with the way the programme is going. We think it has so far led to a 70 per cent reduction
in the C strain of meningitis although it is still early days.
"Most of these reported reactions are very mild and they are reported reactions not
But the number of complaints about the vaccine since its introduction in schools eight months ago
is less than a thousand than the total number received in the 37 years of the whooping cough
It also dwarfs the number of parents who have raised concerns about the MMR jab for measles,
mumps and rubella.
Nationally 4,764 children have reportedly suffered adverse reactions following the Meningitis C
inoculation - around one in every 3,000 cases. Symptoms vary from headaches, to epileptic fits and
black-outs. Only 5,750 reactions have been reported for the whooping cough vaccine in 37 years.
Ashley Howells, 12, of Gloucester, was given the meningitis jab at Easter but he has been kept
away from school since after suffering fits.
Ashley was hospitalised for two days and placed on medication after collapsing. His mother Jean
said: "He was poorly immediately after he had the injection at school. He had colds, which he
never gets, ear infections, headaches and kept falling asleep.
"I put it down to the weather and his age but then he started having these funny hand
movements. I later learned these were seizures and then 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.
"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
Kevin and Nicola Hall's daughter Rebecca, 12, has suffered blackouts and headaches since
receiving the jab. She felt faint and collapsed two hours after she was given the Chiron inoculation
at school in Midsomer Norton, Somerset. Her father said yesterday: "Before Rebecca had the
vaccination she was fit and healthy.
"I don't feel her case has been treated seriously. I am not in favour of the immunisation
programme being stopped, but we don't want these side-effects being treated as if it were a
The couple have now stopped their elder daughter Charlotte, 14, from having the injection.
Last week Michael Wookey, 10, of Wells, Somerset, was airlifted to hospital after he had a severe
reaction to the jab. TV doctor Mark Porter said he welcomed the review saying it was important to
keep a close check on mass vaccination programmes.
He added: "The programme was rolled in very quickly although it was tested on 20,000 people
before it was introduced. And when you are vaccinating 15 million people in a year, you are bound to
get the odd reaction."
Julia Warren, of the Meningitis Research Foundation, added: "News of adverse reactions is a
cause for concern and they should be reported so scientists can look into them."
The wonder drug hyped in a blaze of publicity
THE nationwide meningitis vaccination was launched last November - a year ahead of schedule - in
a blaze of publicity by the Department of Health.
Prof Liam Donaldson, the Government's chief medical officer, hailed the mass programme as a world
first and waived aside parental concerns by claiming "lives would be saved".
At the time it was announced that 13 million school children would be immunised against
meningococcal C, the most virulent strain of the virus.
Initially those targeted were in the vulnerable age groups of 15 to 17 but the immunisation was
extended to babies aged two, three, four, and 13 months by the end of last September.
The NHS followed the original launch up a week later with a nationwide television campaign to
tell parents about the vaccine.
At the end of the first three months health officials were boasting the new vaccine had cut the
number of meningitis C "brain bug" cases in the immunised groups by three-quarters. Dr
David Salisbury, head of the vaccination team, said that about 127 cases and 13 deaths had been
prevented since the previous autumn.
Express Newspapers, 2000