More than 20 babies died or were permanently brain-damaged in
the North-East during secret government trials to test a new
vaccine for whooping cough.
One thousand babies from Tyneside were used in the experiments
for the whooping cough immunisation programme without their
The vaccine had never been tested before it was used on babies
between 1948 and 1956, but only now have health chiefs
admitted that the trials took place.
The discovery was made after members of the Vaccine Victims
Support Group called for a Government inquiry into the damage
caused by vaccinations.
An all-party parliamentary group on vaccine-damaged children,
led by MP Ian Stewart, compiled information relating to all
vaccines administered in the UK.
Reports of the 1950s trial were among these documents.
Mr Stewart said: "It appears a trial was being conducted
without the parents' consent.
"Families should have been warned the drug was still in its
Olivia Price, North-East representative for the support group,
said: "Children were being used as guinea pigs."
While a handful of victims received an "interim" payment of
£10,000 in compensation, most have been given no help at all.
Now families hope this new evidence will help them in their
fight for proper compensation so they can care properly for
their loved ones.
Mrs Price said the government's actions were "unforgivable".
"The government knew damage could be done - anyone with a baby
should have the freedom of choice about whether or not to take
that risk," she said.
"The fact that these parents were not told anything and their
children were left so damaged is nothing short of abuse."
Thousands of children were used in the trials, conducted in
London, Bradford, Newcastle and Liverpool by the Medical
Research Council, a Government body that provides funding for
the development of new drugs.
Mary Heads, from Gateshead, is 79 this year and has spent the
past 50 years caring for her son Michael.
Despite being fit and healthy until he was 20 months old, just
hours after being given the whooping cough vaccine he became
feverish and started to have convulsions.
Doctors said it was unlikely Michael would survive but after
eight days in a coma the youngster pulled through.
He was left paralysed down the right side of his body,
severely brain damaged and suffering from epilepsy.
Mrs Heads said she didn't dare think about what would become
of him once she had gone and was angry that no-one had warned
her of the risks.
"I have never been given so much as 10 pence to help me look
after Michael," she said.
"Now we are told the drug hadn't even been tested properly and
our children were part of an experiment.
"He was such a beautiful baby - so fit and healthy. What's
hard is this was all so unnecessary - it was such a waste of a
The babies were part of an NHS experiment to find out which of
the various drugs could successfully vaccinate against
Those that produced the disastrous side-effects were later
withdrawn and replaced with a different vaccine.
Mr Stewart said he wanted the Government to examine the issue
of the trials.
"Such allegations should be investigated and are of great
concern," he said.
But a spokesman for the Department of Health said he did not
think it was "beneficial" for these issues to be brought up.
"We are talking about trials that took place 50 years ago and
it is important to recognise that things which happened in the
past would not happen now," he said.
"The majority of these claims are at least 15 years old and
have nothing to do with the current vaccination programmes
which we believe are safe and vital for protecting children
against disease." _____
Family Enraged Over Experiments
Almost half a century ago, Michael Heads was given a vaccine
that would change his life for ever.
Instead of protecting him against whooping cough, the drug
destroyed his nervous system, leaving him severely epileptic,
paralysed down his right side and permanently brain damaged.
Now his family, from Gateshead, has been told that Michael was
part of a Government experiment to test out a new vaccine on
1,000 Tyneside children.
Les Milligan, Michael's older brother, said they were angry
this information had been kept from them for so many years.
"No-one ever mentioned to my parents the drug was on trial or
warned them there could be side-effects," he said.
"The lives of everyone in this family were changed for ever
when Michael was given that vaccine and all because no-one
told us the truth.
"I just don't understand why it was allowed to happen."
Michael was just 20 months old when his mother, Mary, took him
to see his GP. He recommended the new whooping cough vaccine
to the young mother, claiming it would protect her son against
the potentially fatal illness.
"My mother told me not to let them vaccinate him but I
believed the doctor and just assumed he knew best," said Mrs
Heads. "It was one of the biggest mistakes of my life and I
still feel guilty even now."
Michael is now a severe epileptic and has suffered a fit three
times a day ever since. The 50-year-old has never been out of
the house alone and relies on the constant love and support of
his mother, Les and his sister Sharon.
Although Mrs Heads did try to get compensation for him in both
1979 and 1980, Michael's case was rejected because they could
not prove he was 80pc brain damaged. Now Mrs Heads is almost
80 and fears she will not be able to look after her son for