forgotten children of Ireland's hidden scandal
Irish Independent, Friday August 20 2010
that vaccine trials had taken place on vulnerable Irish children -- many
of whom were in state care -- first surfaced in the early 1990s.
the current decade dawned, former residents of children's homes began to
publicly raise concerns that they had been the subject of experimental
it was not until 1997 that the State gave an assurance that it would
formally inquire into the issue.
Cowen, who was then Health Minister, directed the chief medical officer
at the Department of Health, Dr James Kiely, to investigate the
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.
document found that 211 children had been administered vaccines during
three separate vaccine trials conducted on behalf of a drugs company,
The Wellcome Foundation.
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.
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.
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."
two, which was conducted during the summer of 1970, saw 35 children
administered with the intra-nasal rubella vaccine.
involved children from St Anne's Industrial School in Booterstown, Co
Dublin, and children living in the Killucan area of Westmeath.
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.
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.
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
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.
Kiely's report said the decision to conduct such clinical trials was
acceptable, given the diseases that the vaccines sought to counter.
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.
added that this lack of information also meant he could not confirm if
the Therapeutic Substances Act 1932 had been complied with in relation
to the licensing of the trials.
damning document was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on
November 7, 2000.
November 9, the then Health Minister Micheal Martin told the Dail an
important part of the probe was to establish if the State had fulfilled
its obligations to children in its care.
he admitted that the report was incomplete.
raises as many questions as it answers. Some of those questions go to
the heart of our attitudes to children and their rights," he said
at the time
report is incomplete because in some areas, the most rigorous
interrogation of the system failed to produce documentary records of the
Martin said the Government had no evidence that any child had contracted
a serious illness as a result of the trials.
he branded the lack of documentation "puzzling" and insisted
that the report had to be the "beginning and not the end" of
minister referred the report of the investigation to the Commission to
Inquire into Child Abuse -- known then as the Laffoy Commission.
government order was subsequently made on June 19, 2001 to provide the
commission with the powers to create a separate module to formally
investigate the issues involved.
'Vaccines Module' initially convened a public sitting on January 23,
2002, to outline its terms of reference. It then began investigating the
obtained documents from GlaxoSmithKline, the successor of Wellcome,
which allowed it to definitively identify the homes and people involved
in the trials.
received so much information relating to trial one that they were able
to identify the children given the 'four-in-one' vaccine.
also conducted private interviews with witnesses to get a more accurate
just before the start of public hearings into the first trials, which
were due to begin on June 17, 2003, the work of the commission was dealt
a severe blow when the Supreme Court ruled that Prof Meenan did not have
to give evidence.
Meenan had appealed a High Court order requiring him to comply with the
commission's direction to give evidence about his involvement in the
inquiry received a further setback when the Government's order directing
the Laffoy Commission probe was held to be invalid by the High Court in
Justice Aindrias O Caoimh gave his decision in a challenge brought by
Prof Hillery. However, he ruled that other machinery could exist for an
November 25, 2003, an undertaking was given to the High Court by the
commission that it would not conduct any hearings in relation to matters
within the ambit of the order.
had been hoped that the Government would appeal this decision. But on
November 2006, Health Minister Mary Harney ordered the vaccine module to
be closed down.
some of the victims have been left with no alternative but to seek
redress in a US court after Ms Harney again firmly ruled out any further
inquiries into existing or new allegations.
victims' basic requests appear to be far from unreasonable; an apology
for what was done to them; full medical screening to see if they have
suffered any damaging long-term effects from the trials; and psychiatric
counselling to help them get over their ordeal.
even this, it appears, is beyond the capacity or willingness of the
State to deliver.
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