- More than 20 babies died or were permanently brain-damaged
in the North-East during secret government trials to test a new vaccine
for whooping cough.
- One thousand babies from Tyneside were used in the experiments
for the whooping cough immunisation programme without their parents' consent.
- The vaccine had never been tested before it was used
on babies between 1948 and 1956, but only now have health chiefs admitted
that the trials took place.
- The discovery was made after members of the Vaccine Victims
Support Group called for a Government inquiry into the damage caused by
- An all-party parliamentary group on vaccine-damaged children,
led by MP Ian Stewart, compiled information relating to all vaccines administered
in the UK.
- Reports of the 1950s trial were among these documents.
- Mr Stewart said: "It appears a trial was being conducted
without the parents' consent.
- "Families should have been warned the drug was still
in its early stages."
- Olivia Price, North-East representative for the support
group, said: "Children were being used as guinea pigs."
- While a handful of victims received an "interim"
payment of £10,000 in compensation, most have been given no help
- Now families hope this new evidence will help them in
their fight for proper compensation so they can care properly for their
- Mrs Price said the government's actions were "unforgivable".
- "The government knew damage could be done - anyone
with a baby should have the freedom of choice about whether or not to take
that risk," she said.
- "The fact that these parents were not told anything
and their children were left so damaged is nothing short of abuse."
- Thousands of children were used in the trials, conducted
in London, Bradford, Newcastle and Liverpool by the Medical Research Council,
a Government body that provides funding for the development of new drugs.
- Mary Heads, from Gateshead, is 79 this year and has spent
the past 50 years caring for her son Michael.
- Despite being fit and healthy until he was 20 months
old, just hours after being given the whooping cough vaccine he became
feverish and started to have convulsions.
- Doctors said it was unlikely Michael would survive but
after eight days in a coma the youngster pulled through.
- He was left paralysed down the right side of his body,
severely brain damaged and suffering from epilepsy.
- Mrs Heads said she didn't dare think about what would
become of him once she had gone and was angry that no-one had warned her
of the risks.
- "I have never been given so much as 10 pence to
help me look after Michael," she said.
- "Now we are told the drug hadn't even been tested
properly and our children were part of an experiment.
- "He was such a beautiful baby - so fit and healthy.
What's hard is this was all so unnecessary - it was such a waste of a life."
- The babies were part of an NHS experiment to find out
which of the various drugs could successfully vaccinate against whooping
- Those that produced the disastrous side-effects were
later withdrawn and replaced with a different vaccine.
- Mr Stewart said he wanted the Government to examine the
issue of the trials.
- "Such allegations should be investigated and are
of great concern," he said.
- But a spokesman for the Department of Health said he
did not think it was "beneficial" for these issues to be brought
- "We are talking about trials that took place 50
years ago and it is important to recognise that things which happened in
the past would not happen now," he said.
- "The majority of these claims are at least 15 years
old and have nothing to do with the current vaccination programmes which
we believe are safe and vital for protecting children against disease."
- Family Enraged Over Experiments http://www.the-journal.co.uk/cfm/news_story.cfm?storyId=184634
- Almost half a century ago, Michael Heads was given a
vaccine that would change his life for ever.
- Instead of protecting him against whooping cough, the
drug destroyed his nervous system, leaving him severely epileptic, paralysed
down his right side and permanently brain damaged.
- Now his family, from Gateshead, has been told that Michael
was part of a Government experiment to test out a new vaccine on 1,000
- Les Milligan, Michael's older brother, said they were
angry this information had been kept from them for so many years.
- "No-one ever mentioned to my parents the drug was
on trial or warned them there could be side-effects," he said.
- "The lives of everyone in this family were changed
for ever when Michael was given that vaccine and all because no-one told
us the truth.
- "I just don't understand why it was allowed to happen."
- Michael was just 20 months old when his mother, Mary,
took him to see his GP. He recommended the new whooping cough vaccine to
the young mother, claiming it would protect her son against the potentially
- "My mother told me not to let them vaccinate him
but I believed the doctor and just assumed he knew best," said Mrs
Heads. "It was one of the biggest mistakes of my life and I still
feel guilty even now."
- Michael is now a severe epileptic and has suffered a
fit three times a day ever since. The 50-year-old has never been out of
the house alone and relies on the constant love and support of his mother,
Les and his sister Sharon.
- Although Mrs Heads did try to get compensation for him
in both 1979 and 1980, Michael's case was rejected because they could not
prove he was 80pc brain damaged. Now Mrs Heads is almost 80 and fears she
will not be able to look after her son for much longer.
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