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us that a large percentage of the population is told nothing at all about the risks of the vaccine most oftenassociated with serious side effects, DPT," says Hickman.DPT is the "triple antigen" diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus
, the whooping cough or pertussiscomponent of which is linked to most side effects.But it's not just a question of no information, it's a question of which information. And how different medicalprofessionals interpret the information. A Commonwealth Department of Health booklet for parents, Understanding Childhood Immunisation, statesthat the "most careful long-term studies show there is probably not a link between DPT and brain damage".But overseas, one of the world's most respected medical bodies has found that there probably is a linkbetween DPT and brain damage, albeit limited. The study was by the US National Academy of Sciences'Institute of Medicine (IOM), a group that advises the US Government on health issues. The IOM's 1994review of the huge British National Childhood Encephalopathy Study states that "the balance of evidence isconsistent with a causal relation between DPT and the forms of chronic nervous system dysfunctiondescribed in the ... study in those children who experience a serious acute neurological illness within sevendays of receiving DPT vaccine".The IOM says the risk of "chronic nervous dysfunction" (problems ranging from learning disabilities to severebrain damage to death) is rare but measurable.This is not to underplay the seriousness of whooping cough. In 1994, Australia had about 4,000 cases. Manychildren suffer terribly: long coughing fits ending with the characteristic "whoop" as they struggle for breath. All medical authorities say whooping cough causes brain damage at a far higher frequency than the vaccine.Pneumonia can be a complication and, in very young infants, the disease has a death rate of between one in300 and one in 2,000.With many suspected side effects, the fairest thing to say is that the jury is still out. Yet
medicalauthorities tend to interpret this as "not guilty".Dr Gavin Frost, a senior adviser to the Federal Government on vaccines, says: "I don't believe it (DPT) doescause permanent damage ... because that's been the experience in Australia and many countries before,during and after that analysis by the IOM."Certainly, children have chronic brain damage; some of those have received vaccines and some have not,and I find no evidence which leads me to believe that more have it after the vaccine and therefore possiblydue to it." A Newcastle clinical immunologist, Dr David Sutherland, says: "I don't recognise rheumatoid arthritis as aresult of hepatitis B
."Such medical professionals don't want to raise what they see as unwarranted fears. That may lower immunisation rates further, leading to more disease and deaths than vaccines could ever cause, they argue.But the danger of this line of thinking is that doctors may fail to investigate possible side effects.Next week, a group of concerned parents and health professionals will present the Federal Health Minister,Dr Wooldridge, with 150 reports of what they say are injuries to their children, mostly from DPT. While morethan a million children are vaccinated each year in Australia, this is the biggest set of suspected adversereactions ever given to the
Government -all previously unreported.The cases are mostly of children with serious disabilities, ranging from epilepsy to severe brain damage.They have been compiled since 1991 by the
.Stacey Chapman, of Milperra, says her son Rhys, now 5, became epileptic after his 18-month DPT, HIB andpolio vaccinations on May 7, 1993. "He had no signs of any ill health before the shots, but by midnight on thesame day he was hot, frothing at the mouth and he turned blue. My husband called an ambulance and wetook him to Bankstown Hospital."Rhys has been on medication to control his seizures ever since and Chapman now sees a GP whoadministers vaccines one at a time.The parents, from lawyers to farmers, say they were not warned of any serious side effects of vaccines. Allsay the medical professionals they approached ruled out any connection between the change in their childand the vaccine. The doctors neither filed a medical report nor sought an investigation.