Three trials of vaccines conducted in Ireland between 1962 and 1973 have been condemned as unethical by the Irish Minister for Health, Micheal Martin.
His statement is a comment on a report presented by the Laffoy Commission on Child Abuse a statutory body with the powers to compel witnesses to testify and, therefore, able to carry out in depth investigations.
The Commission investigated three vaccine trials one in 1962, involving a combined vaccine for diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and polio; a second trial, published in 1972, testing the effects of a rubella nasal spray; and a third, unpublished, 1973 trial that compared adverse reactions to a commercially available tetanus vaccine with that of a modified tetanus vaccine.
These experiments involved a number of children in care for whom it is unlikely there was any real informed consent. In one case, the children in care received the experimental vaccine while those living with their families received the conventional one. Other findings were that some of the medications were given to children who were outside the age group for which those medications were known to be effective.
Mr Martin stated that the findings of the Commission raised more questions than they answered. Among these questions, and perhaps most important, is: were these studies for the public good or for the commercial advantage of the manufacturer?
Mr Martin also points out the disturbing finding that record keeping during these trials was completely inadequate, making the follow up and detection of adverse effects difficult, if not impossible (Lancet, 2000; 356: 1747).