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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 January, 2005, 10:10 GMT
Plan for new vaccine for babies
Vaccination
Small babies already receive six vaccines
The Department of Health is considering introducing a new vaccine to protect babies against bacterial meningitis, septicaemia and pneumonia.

Babies already receive two jabs containing six vaccinations by the age of four months.

Officials have agreed to the new vaccine in principle - but will consult parents before taking a final decision.

In the wake of the controversy over MMR, they want to ensure a new vaccine has public support.

Whatever decision is made will be based on protecting children as best as we possibly can.
Department of Health
Research which linked MMR - a triple jab for measles, mumps and rubella - to autism and bowel disorders has now been discredited.

Although the investigator Dr Andrew Wakefield argues that his study was not flawed, The Lancet medical journal, which published the original paper, now says it would not have done so if it had been aware that Dr Wakefield had a conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, experts warn that reluctance to introduce new vaccines for fear of a negative public reaction puts many babies at risk of disease.

The new vaccine, which would protect against disease caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, has been endorsed by the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation.

A Department of Health spokeswoman told the BBC News website that further expert opinion would be sought before a final decision was taken.

She said: "We always take parents' fears and worries into account, but whatever decision is made will be based on protecting children as best as we possibly can."

Combined jab

Babies already receive a five-in-one jab, introduced last year, to protect them against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, Hib and polio in a single shot. They also get a second vaccination protecting them against meningitis C.

It has not been decided whether the new vaccine will be added to the combined five-in-one jab, or administered separately.

The new vaccine is already given to children with conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

Dr Evan Harris, for the Liberal Democrats, said it was sad that the controversy over the MMR vaccine had made health officials reluctant to propose potentially effective new jabs.

"We now know that was a nonsense story. Not only is MMR an effective and safe vaccine, but the controversy around it was fabricated on the basis of not just wrong science, but bad science."

Dr Harris said there was no evidence that a child's immune system cannot cope with multiple vaccines.

"I really do worry that if we can't introduce these sort of vaccines we are going to see a return to diseases that we thought we had broadly seen the last of in this country."

Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, a GP in Hackney, London and a member of the group Sense About Science, said: "It's great news that the government is pushing ahead with a vaccine that could save between 50 and 100 lives a year."

However, John Fletcher, of Jabs, a vaccine damage support group, said no new vaccine should be introduced without extensive testing first.

He also called for the system of reporting adverse reactions to be beefed up.

"Until somebody takes responsibility for vaccine damage parents have got every right to be very sceptical about giving their children more and more vaccines," he said.




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