One-third of the members of a UK government committee that has advised that the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella is safe have financial interests in drug companies that make the treatment, writes Rosie Waterhouse.
Twelve of the 36 members of the Committee on Safety of Medicines have financial links with the MMR manufacturers, whose products they have given the all-clear on the basis of published research. Most members are academics or medical experts who specialise in pharmacology. Five of them hold shares in the drug companies, or are paid consultants, while another seven have received grants or sponsorship from them to fund academic studies or clinical trials. All members declare their financial interests in a register and before meetings. The chairman then decides whether they can participate in discussions.
Campaigners against the MMR vaccine, who fear it causes autism or bowel disease in children, claim the financial links between drug watchdogs and the pharmaceutical industry could lead to a conflict of interest. One lobby group, Jabs, is to write to Alan Milburn, the health secretary, asking for an investigation into the potential conflict of interest. Last week Mary Robinson, from Hayle, Cornwall, said she would take legal action after claiming that five of her six children had developed autism after their MMR injections.
While the government and most of the medical establishment argue that the vaccine is safe, research by Dr Andrew Wakefield, of the Royal Free hospital, London, claimed the trials leading to the MMR vaccine's adoption in Britain were too brief to detect the feared complications. In an interview in The Sunday Times today, Liam Donaldson, the government's chief medical officer, defends the government's refusal to endorse separate injections in place of the MMR vaccine.