THE parents of a severely disabled Islander – who was part of Andrew Wakefield’s discredited 1990s study which claimed the MMR vaccine could cause autism – have lost their bid to stop their son receiving the Covid jab following a Royal Court ruling.
The Health Minister sought an order to ensure the man, referred to in a recently published judgment as B and whose disability meant he was unable to personally consent, would be vaccinated against both Covid-19 and flu as it would be in his best interests and would improve access to certain therapeutic treatments.
However, B’s parents challenged the move, arguing that their son’s chronic neurological disease was the result of receiving the MMR jab as a baby – something which they had been told by Mr Wakefield, a disgraced academic and former doctor.
In 1998, Mr Wakefield published a study in the medical journal The Lancet, which has since been fully retracted, which falsely claimed causative links between the MMR vaccine, colitis and autism.
The Royal Court, in its judgment, said: ‘They [the parents] believe strongly that it was the result of an MMR vaccine delivered in October 1991 when the first respondent [was a toddler] that his health suffered leading to the chronic neurological disease which he now has.
‘They were advised by Dr Andrew Wakefield that this was so – that the MMR vaccine might lead to behavioural regression and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Indeed, the first respondent [the couple’s son] was one of The Lancet Twelve, so named after the article in The Lancet which made those various claims in relation to the safety of the MMR vaccine in or about 1997.
‘We add that the claims have all been discredited, and that the research has subsequently been found to have been inherently unreliable; Dr Wakefield has been found to have acted against his patients’ best interests, and to have mistreated developmentally delayed children, and he was struck off the UK medical register in or about 2010.’
The judgment states that B’s father had previously been appointed as ‘health and welfare and property and affairs delegate’ for his son.
It adds that B had not been vaccinated against Covid or flu because ‘his parents have objected to that action being taken’ and that the father’s lack of consent to having the coronavirus and flu jabs meant that it was ‘necessary for the minister to apply to court for approval for that treatment to be carried out’.
The Royal Court, presided over by Commissioner Sir William Bailhache with Jurats Robert Christensen and Gareth Hughes sitting, ruled that B had ‘no capacity to make the decision on the proposed treatment for himself’ and heard evidence from some of the Island’s leading medics – including deputy medical officer of health Dr Ivan Muscat.
‘We recognise, as did Dr Muscat, that the presence of the vaccine does not prevent infection. However, he considered that the vaccine and the natural immunity from previous infection would provide some protection – in other words the person catching Covid would suffer less severely – and there might be a lower risk of the infection being transmitted into the community,’ the judgment stated.
B’s mother submitted that ‘her family had had a number of difficulties with vaccinations’ and that Dr Wakefield’s study – despite being discredited – was correct in relation to her son.
The judgment states: ‘The parents believe that despite the fact that Dr Wakefield might have been wrong about a number of cases, he was not wrong about the first respondent [her son]. C [B’s father] told us that on the day his son had the MMR vaccination in 1991, he was fine; but in the evening he was in a very bad way, and by the next morning he was completely blank. The parents felt they had a different and disabled child. He told us that it was hard to convey how tragic that was, and the vaccine had had a devastating effect on both the first respondent and on his family. He did not believe that any more risks should be taken with the first respondent by vaccinating him again.’
The court ruled that the effect of being unvaccinated in the care home where B lived meant that he was unable to take part in group activities as he was ‘in effect being shielded’.
Hydrotherapy treatments were only available to those who have received their jabs, the judgment stated. It was also said that he was ‘unable to receive’ speech and language therapies because staff were forced to wear masks, meaning the man was ‘unable to read facial expressions and it was difficult to build better communication enabling staff to understand his wishes’.
‘On the evidence before us, vaccination would remove many of the restrictions which currently affected [B’s] day-to-day living,’ the court said.
In summing up, the court added: ‘We feel for the parents. They fear that if the first respondent is vaccinated, he may well be taken from them altogether, or even if that does not occur, his overall health will degenerate more quickly.
‘We recognise entirely that they can, if they choose, feel that it is all very well for the court to take a balance of risk decision in circumstances where, if that decision is wrong, the results would be sad but not shattering. That is not the position in which they find themselves, because they would be entirely shattered were the result to be as they fear; and, if he could express his wishes, we have no doubt that the first respondent would wish to give some weight to those fears.
‘At the same time, the first respondent is entitled to the best quality of life that, given his state of health and disabilities, can reasonably be arranged for him. We think that keeping the first respondent alive is an objective, which indeed is one purpose in the proposed treatment, but it is not the only objective. If he could express his own wishes, we are sure that he would want to have the best quality of life he could reasonably enjoy.
‘In those circumstances we have no doubt that the right best interests decision is that the first respondent be vaccinated against both Covid-19 and influenza and we accept the general philosophy that boosters should be applied when medically appropriate because the protection which will be available to him once he has been vaccinated will wane with time, as will such immunity as he has as a result of suffering from Covid in the summer of 2022.
‘Ultimately, however, we make it clear that whether the vaccines are administered at the same time or separately is a medical decision and the minister is authorised to follow the advice of the vaccination panel in that connection.
‘For these reasons we approve the application of the minister and make the order sought.’