GSK urged to consider reparations over vaccine trials at mother and baby homes

Minister for Children says pharma firm has ‘moral and ethical obligation’ to take action

Pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has been asked to consider making reparations arising from the findings of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in relation to vaccine trials.

The commission found that two companies that now form part of GSK were involved in trials at the homes that did not comply with the standards at the time in relation to securing consent.

In a letter to GSK's chief executive, Dame Emma Natasha Walmsley, Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman said he believed all relevant parties, including GSK, had a "moral and ethical obligation to take appropriate action" in response to the commission's report.

The commission identified 13 vaccine trials that took place between 1922 and 1998, he pointed out, as well as clinical trials of non-commercial infant milk products in 1968 and 1969.


“These trials all involved either the Wellcome Foundation or Glaxo Laboratories. It is recognised that these companies were separate commercial entities when the trials were conducted, although today they are part of GlaxoSmithKline,” he said.

‘Ethical standards’

“It is clear that the trials did not comply with the relevant regulatory or ethical standards of the time... Consent was not obtained from the mothers of the children, or their guardians, and the necessary licences were not sought or granted in many cases.”

The Minister said former residents, their families and supporters have raised a number of concerns with him in relation to the vaccine trials, “including their sincerely held view that reparations should be forthcoming from GSK”.

Taking action now would allow GSK to demonstrate compassion and acknowledge its corporate responsibility, the Minister said, adding that he awaited an “early response” to the matters raised in his letter.

The letter was dated March 12th. An attempt to get a response from GSK on Sunday was not successful. In the wake of the commission’s report being published in January, the multinational issued a short statement saying it said it had co-operated with the commission, the findings of which “make for difficult reading”. It said the report did not reflect how clinical studies are conducted today, and that it had no further comment to make on the “historic events” outlined.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent