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State body digs heels in over drug-trial documents

By Patricia McDonagh
Irish Independent, Saturday January 22 2011

GOVERNMENT officials have not yet decided what to do with sensitive files on controversial vaccine trials carried out on Irish infants.

The Department of Health has directed the Commission to Investigate Child Abuse to dismantle its investigation into the trials in a bid to wrap it up for good. It has instructed that the documents be handed back to the organisations they were obtained from, including GlaxoSmithKline.

But the commission has insisted it will make its own decision on the issue -- and may fight to retain some of the records. The differing views have emerged as vaccine-trial victims prepare a High Court action to obtain confidential documents from four separate organisations.

Former Health Minister Mary Harney first instructed departmental officials six years ago to discuss with the commission what should be done with the documents.

Last night Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance criticised the department's failure to safeguard the documents, branding it a "slap in the face" for adopted people.

Three confirmed trials were carried out by doctors on behalf of The Wellcome Foundation, which later merged to become GlaxoSmithKline, during the 1960s and 1970s.

The trials involved 211 infants and babies -- 123 of whom were in the care of the State. It is unclear whether the parents or guardians of the children consented to the trials or whether the firm complied with licensing legislation.

Last night the Department of Health confirmed that it had directed the commission to dismantle the inquiry.

- Patricia McDonagh

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