But the dust had scarcely settled on the GMC verdict-which also stripped Wakefield of his right to practice medicine-when new developments raised fresh fears about the MMR jab.
The government has been forced to admit-as a result of Freedom of Information legislation-that child-hood vaccines, including the MMR, could be killing around six children a year.
A landmark legal ruling has forced the authorities to accept that a boy has suffered severe brain damage as a result of the MMR.
The US government has conceded that the MMR can cause autism in children who have a specific genetic precondition.
Nevertheless, the UK Department of Health's hand-outs continue to reassure parents that the vaccine is, in the main, safe, and that no deaths have been associated with the MMR jab.
The risks are real
Childhood vaccines such as the MMR could be responsible for an average of six deaths a year and more than 300 serious adverse reactions, according to government data reported in The Sunday Times on 24 October 2010.
This was revealed after the UK news-paper sent a Freedom of Information (FOI) data request to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA)-the government agency in charge of ensuring that medicines and medical devices work, and are acceptably safe.
The data showed that, since 2003, 40 children are suspected to have died as a result of routine vaccines such as the MMR, while more than 2100 serious-and sometimes even life-threatening-adverse reactions have been recorded. Of these reactions, more than 1500 were neurological, including 11 cases of brain inflamma-tion, 13 cases of epilepsy and one case of coma.
The MHRA said the deaths and neural reactions should be viewed in the context of the 90 million doses of childhood vaccines given over the past seven years. However, the true picture may well be far worse than the MHRA figures suggest. It's estimated that only 10 per cent of adverse reactions, including death, are ever reported, which means that childhood vaccines may have caused 400 deaths and 21,000 serious adverse events in the UK alone.
These shocking revelations come just two months after a legal ruling forced the government to accept that an infant had been left severely brain damaged as a result of the MMR.
Robert Fletcher, now 18 years old, was a healthy baby, developing normal-ly, when given the MMR vaccine at the age of 13 months. Shortly thereafter, he began to suffer from epileptic fits and became unresponsive. He is now severely disabled, requiring round-the-clock care from his parents.
The Department of Health had denied any connection between the MMR jab and Robert's condition. Yet, in a landmark judgement in August, a medical assessment panel ruled that Robert was severely brain damaged as a direct result of the MMR.
In a six-page document, the panel wrote: "Robert was a more or less fit boy who, within the period usually considered relevant to immunization, developed a severe convulsion . . . then went on to be epileptic and severely retarded.
"The seizure occurred ten days after the vaccination. In our view, this cannot be put down to coincidence."
The document then goes on to state: "On this basis, we find that Robert is severely disabled as a result of vaccination."
The judgement brings to an end a lengthy campaign by Robert's mother, Jackie Fletcher, who created the pressure group JABS to provide advice and support to families of vaccine-damaged children. Jackie and her family have been awarded lb90,000 in compensation from the government's Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme, thus bringing hope to the thousands of other parents in the UK who are also fighting for justice.
In addition, Nadine Dorries, a Conservative MP who sits on the House of Commons Health Commit-tee, stated: "If an independent panel has reached the conclusion that there has been a link between the MMR vaccine and the brain damage suffered by this boy in this case, then it is fair to assume that there could be as many as thousands of children and parents in the same position."
However, the medical assessment panel stressed that their judgement was specific to Robert Fletcher and "should not be seen as a precedent for any other case". They also added that "In particular, it has no relevance to the issue . . . as to whether there is a link between the MMR vaccine and autism".
The MMR-autism link
Indeed, whether or not the MMR jab causes autism has been an issue of concern to parents ever since Andrew Wakefield raised the alarm bells in his 1998 paper. Nevertheless, the Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme continues to refuse to pay out on any autism cases, as it maintains that a causal link has not been proven.
It's a very different story in the US, however, where the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has made 925 compensation payments to parents between 1998 and 2008 for claims that a vaccine was the cause of their child's autism. One of the most high-profile cases was that of Hannah Poling, who was a normal, healthy child until she was given five vaccinations, including the MMR jab, at the age of 19 months in July 2000. Her health soon declined rapidly and she suffered bouts of fever, stopped eating and failed to respond to any stimuli. She was eventually diagnosed with autism in 2001.
In 2008, the US government agreed to pay a compensation for her dis-abilities, having conceded out of court that her condition had been "significantly aggravated" by vaccina-tion. However, the settlement figure has only recently been agreed upon:
an immediate $1.5 million in compensation, to be followed by annual sums of $500,000 to pay for Hannah's care.
Pro-vaccine groups have pointed out that Hannah's is a special case and doesn't prove an MMR-autism link.
In fact, Hannah was found to have a dysfunction of the mitochondria-the 'batteries' in our cells that produce the energy essential for normal life functions-which is thought to have predisposed her to autism. However, similar findings have been reported in other cases, suggesting that this condition is not just a one-off.
According to David Kirby, author of the award-winning book Evidence of Harm (London, UK: St. Martin's Press, 2005), "It now looks as if 20 per cent of children with regressive autism may have this [mitochondrial] weakness; some are saying 65 per cent . . . The cause of this weakness could be genetic or environmental."
Clearly, the MMR controversy is far from over. And with more and more evidence coming to light questioning the vaccine's safety (see also our special report in WDDTY vol 21 no 1), it looks as if the government will, yet again, fail to meet its 95-per-cent uptake target for the MMR vaccine.
WDDTY VOL. 21 ISSUE 09