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Sunday, 27 August, 2000, 00:02 GMT 01:02 UK
Deaths spark meningitis jab fears
Over 14 million people have been immunised
The government has hit back at claims that it covered up its mass meningitis immunisation programme, following reports that 11 people died after injections.

The deaths were reported to the Medicines Control Agency (MCA) but never made public, according to a report in The Observer.

This kind of thing frightens parents

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health

The Chiron jab was introduced last year as a protection against the potentially lethal meningitis C strain.

The Department of Health said it chose not to make the deaths public for fear of panicking parents. It maintains the vaccine is safe.

"I am not surprised the deaths were not made public because they have been investigated and any links were categorically ruled out," said a DoH spokeswoman.

"If someone has ever had the vaccine and they die their deaths are reported as a matter of course, that does not mean there is a link.


"This kind of thing frightens parents, parents who might have already made appointments, and then there is the threat of meningitis C if they are not immunised."

According to the department, two of the 11 dead had pre-existing heart conditions, two died of group B meningitis, one of a convulsion 10 days after he was vaccinated. The six others died of cot death.

According to The Observer more than 16,000 adverse reactions have also been reported by GPs.

A report from the government's Committee on the Safety of Medicines gave the vaccine the all clear last Thursday, after extensive investigations into the level of reactions.

Shadow health secretary Liam Fox
Liam Fox: Wants an inquiry
The Shadow health secretary, Liam Fox, is calling on the government to launch an inquiry into meningitis C immunisation.

"If information has been withheld, it will lead to suspicions that officials have not been entirely frank," he reportedly told The Observer.

"If 11 deaths have not been made public, the government risks the public losing faith in the system."

Britain is the first European country to introduce the vaccine.

Since the vaccination programme began around 14 million babies, children and adults have been immunised.

Department of Health figures show a 75% reduction in the number of confirmed cases in the 15 to 17 age group last winter.

The same figures for babies under a year old show a 70% fall.

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See also:

31 Jan 00 | Health
The meningitis files
27 Jun 00 | Health
More cash for vaccine victims
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