By Patricia McDonagh
Friday, 20 August 2010
Suspicions that vaccine trials had taken place on vulnerable Irish children — many of whom were in state care — first surfaced in the early 1990s.
As the current decade dawned, former residents of children’s homes began to publicly raise concerns that they had been the subject of experimental trials.
However, it was not until 1997 that the State gave an assurance that it would formally inquire into the issue.
Brian Cowen, who was then Health Minister, directed the chief medical officer at the Department of Health, Dr James Kiely, to investigate the allegations.
In 2000, a report — entitled the “Report On Three Clinical Trials Involving Babies And Children In Institutional Settings, 1960/61, 1970 and 1973” — was finally drawn up.
The document found that 211 children had been administered vaccines during three separate vaccine trials conducted on behalf of a drugs company, The Wellcome Foundation.
More than 123 of these infants and toddlers were residents in children’s homes in Dublin, Cork and the midlands when the trials took place in the 1960s and 1970s.
Trial one involved 58 children in five children’s homes in Dublin, Cork, Westmeath and Meath. The trial investigated what would happen if four vaccines — diphtheria, pertussis (also known as whooping cough), tetanus and polio — were combined in one overall four-in-one shot.
The trial was published in the ‘British Medical Journal’ in 1962. The final paragraph of it read: “We are indebted to the medical officers in charge of the children’s homes. . . for permission to carry out this investigation on infants under their care.”
Trial two, which was conducted during the summer of 1970, saw 35 children administered with the intra-nasal rubella vaccine.
It involved children from St Anne’s Industrial School in Booterstown, Co Dublin, and children living in the Killucan area of Westmeath.
Published in the ‘Cambridge Journal of Hygiene’ in 1971, the trial attempted to find out if German measles vaccine, administered intranasally, could spread to susceptible contacts.
Both trials were carried out by Professor Irene Hillery and Professor Patrick Meenan, from the department of Medical Microbiology in University College Dublin, and other doctors.
The final trial involved 53 children from institutional homes. The homes were: St Patrick’s Home, Madonna House, Cottage Home, Bird’s Nest and Boheennaburna. A further 65 children living at home in Dublin also took part.
The purpose of the trial was to compare commercially available batches of the three-in-one vaccine, Trivax and Trivax AD, with that of a modified vaccine prepared for the trial.
Dr Kiely’s report said the decision to conduct such clinical trials was acceptable, given the diseases that the vaccines sought to counter.
But, crucially, he insisted the lack of documentation available meant it had not been possible to confirm if consent had been given by the parents or guardians of the children involved or what arrangements were arrived at with managers of the homes.