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As children get public funds to pursue litigation over MMR, hepatitis B vaccine policy is criticised ­ by Brian Kelly

Legal aid has been reinstated to fund the cases of 11 children whose parents claim they suffered serious damage from MMR, sparking fears that the debate over the vaccine's safety will be reignited.

The Government's Legal Services Commission has ruled there is a 'reasonable prospect' that the children will succeed in their claim for compensation from the vaccine manufacturers.

A legal aid appeal panel confirmed the decision to cease all funding for 1,000-plus cases claiming a link between MMR and autistic spectrum disorder or irritable bowel disease.

But it concluded there was 'legal merit' in the cases of 11 children who allege MMR caused a variety of serious conditions (see right) and reinstated funding to investigate whether there were grounds for a multi-party action.

Alexander Harris, the firm of solicitors acting for the children, said the decision had cast renewed doubt on the safety of the vaccine. A spokeswoman said: 'There is a big question-mark over whether this will open up the safety debate again.'

GPs fear the decision will dent fragile parental confidence at a time when MMR uptake stands at a record low.

Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, a GP in north London who has written a book on MMR safety, branded the commission's decision 'outrageous' and said it would 'inevitably' affect vaccine uptake. He added: 'There is absolutely no justification for this. This is not going to help MMR uptake, especially at a time when there is a severe risk of a measles outbreak.'

Dr Fitzpatrick, whose son has autism, added: 'This only prolongs the agony for parents who have been dragged through this litigation for the past five years and have ended up with less than nothing.'

Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation spokesman and a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, said: 'I very much hope this doesn't impair parents' confidence in the vaccine.'

Dr Mary Ramsay, a consultant epidemiologist at the Health Protection Agency's immunisation division, said the vaccine side-effects at the centre of the legal claims occurred very rarely, adding: 'Less than one in a million children will be affected by encephalitis following vaccination.'

Conditions

allegedly linked

to MMR

The Legal Services Commission has ruled there is a 'reasonable prospect

of success' for litigation claiming a link between

MMR and:

·Encephalitis

·Transverse myelitis

·Epilepsy

·Deafness

·Post-rubella vaccine arthropathy

·Crohn's disease

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