Call for inquiry into vaccine trials in institutions


AN INDEPENDENT inquiry should be set up to examine vaccine trials carried out on babies and children in orphanages and mother-and-baby homes in the 1960s and 1970s, a former resident has said.

Victor Boyhan, former chairman of Past Residents of Smyly Homes and Cottage Homes, said that after almost 20 years of seeking answers from the State, it was time the truth came out about the drugs trials.

The call came after it emerged a woman adopted from Ireland in 1961, who was involved in a vaccine trial as a baby without the permission of her mother, is to take legal action against the drugs company involved.

Mari Steed (50), who lives in the US, is to take action along with three others against GlaxoSmithKline, which as “The Wellcome Foundation” at the time the trials were conducted.

Ms Steed was administered the experimental vaccine while at the Sacred Heart Convent, Bessborough, Co Cork, between December 1960 and October 1961 when aged between nine and 18 months old. She also hopes to bring legal action against the Sacred Heart order in the Irish courts.

In the 1960s, clinical trials compared a 3-in-1 vaccine for Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis and separate polio immunisation to a 4-in-1 vaccine for the illnesses. The studies in the 1970s looked at two different types of 3-in-1 vaccines.

The trials took place in institutions including the Bessboro home, St Patrick’s Home, Navan Road, Dublin, Cottage Home for Little Children, Dun Laoghaire and the Bird’s Nest Home, Dun Laoghaire.

In 1993, then minister for health Labour Party deputy Brendan Howlin, through his private secretary, wrote to a past resident of one of the homes about the trials. He said his department had inquired into them and he was satisfied there was “no added risk whatsoever” to the children who received the vaccines.

A report published by the Department of Health in 2000, showed that at least 211 children in homes and orphanages were given test vaccines during three separate drug trials in 1960/1961, 1970 and in 1973.

The Laffoy commission on Child Abuse was then asked by the Government to investigate those trials and any others carried out in institutions between January 1940 and December 1987. But the commission’s investigation was dropped following court action taken by the medical practitioners involved.

There has been no further progress in establishing the details of the trials or if the drugs had any long-term effects on the individuals involved.

Mr Boyhan, who is also a councillor in Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, called for an independent inquiry to be set up to establish the facts. He said a lot of information had been received by the Laffoy Commission before its investigation was closed down and the records of many of the institutions involved were still “surprisingly intact”.

“Bodily integrity is a fundamental right of every citizen, it is not unreasonable to want to know what happened,” he said.