HC Deb 12 May 2004 vol 421 cc469-70W
Bob Russell

To ask the Secretary of State for Health whether there is a shortage of serum for(a) measles, (b) mumps and (c) rubella for children whose parents opt for individual inoculations; and if he will make a statement. [171738]

Miss Melanie Johnson

The Department holds no information about the supply of single vaccines.

Norman Baker

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what analysis he has made of the potential link between the use of mercury-based whooping cough vaccines and the incidence of autism; and if he will make a statement. [167767]

Ms Rosie Winterton

As with all medicinal products, vaccine safety is continually monitored by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and its independent expert advisory body, the Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM). The MHRA and CSM have thoroughly reviewed the safety of mercury-containing vaccines, including alleged links with autism, on a number of occasions.

In 2001, CSM conducted a major review of the available evidence and has since then considered new data as it has emerged. In 2003, following a review of further studies, including two United Kingdom studies involving more than 100,000 children, CSM advice was placed on the MHRA website at http://medicines.mhra.gov.uk.

Further studies from Denmark involving almost half a million children have also specifically investigated the suggested link between mercury-containing vaccines and autism. None of these studies found any evidence of a causal association.

On the basis of the available data, the advice of CSM remains that there is no evidence of harm from the form of mercury contained in vaccines, with the exception of possible hypersensitivity reactions, typically skin rashes or local swelling at the site of injection. The CSM advises that the benefits of immunisation with such vaccines outweigh any potential risks of vaccination. This view concurs with that of the World Health Organisation.

Despite the strong evidence supporting the safety of mercury-containing vaccines, the European medicines regulatory body, the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products (EMEA) continues to promote the development of vaccines without, or with the lowest possible levels of, mercury compounds. The CSM supports the EMEA position. In response to this, several UK licensed vaccines have had levels of such compounds reduced or removed completely from the manufacture of the component antigens or from the final vaccine.