By Heidi Blake
A man who suffered severe brain damage after being given the MMR vaccine as a baby has been awarded £90,000 in a landmark ruling expected to pave the way for thousands of similar compensation claims.
Robert Fletcher, 18, was a healthy 13-month-old baby when he was given the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. He now suffers from frequent epileptic fits, is doubly incontinent and is unable to stand, talk or feed himself.
The Department of Health denied any link between his disabilities and the controversial jab, but a medical assessment panel ruled last week that Mr Fletcher became severely disabled as a direct result of the MMR.
It is thought to be the first compensation award in an MMR case since the vaccine became a focus for controversy in 1998, when the now discredited Dr Andrew Wakefield claimed it could be linked to autism.
Medical legal experts said last night that the ruling could open the floodgates to thousands of similar claims by families who believe their children have been adversely affected by the jab.
Dr Robin Moffat, president of the Medico-Legal Society, said: “I would have thought there will be a surge of actions as a result of this.
Nadine Dorries, a Conservative MP who sits on the Commons Health Committee, said: “If an independent panel has reached the conclusion that there has been a link between the MMR vaccine and the brain damage suffered by this boy in this case, then it is fair to assume that there could be as many as thousands of children and parents in the same position.”
Mr Fletcher, from Warrington, Cheshire, requires round-the-clock care from his parents, who have been battling for compensation for 13 years.
His mother, Jackie, dismissed the £90,000 award as “derisory”, but said she was pleased to have been vindicated.
Mrs Fletcher set up and runs the pressure group JABS which is helping around 2,000 families who claim their children were harmed by the MMR with their struggles to win compensation.
Her first application for compensation under the Government’s Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme was rejected in 1997 on the grounds that it was impossible to prove what had caused Robert’s illness.
But her appeal was upheld last week. In a six-page judgement, the medical assessment panel wrote: “Robert was a more or less fit boy who, within the period usually considered relevant to immunisation, developed a severe convulsion… and he then went on to be epileptic and severely retarded.
“The seizure occurred ten days after the vaccination. In our view, this cannot be put down to coincidence.”
It went on: “On this basis, we find that Robert is severely disabled as a result of vaccination and this is why we allowed the appeal.”
Mrs Fletcher said: “Robert is nearly 19 but mentally he is like a 14-month-old toddler. He can’t stand unaided and he is doubly incontinent. He can’t speak except to say ‘Hi, Mum’ or ‘Hi, Daddy’.
“We chop up his food and have to anticipate all his needs. He is prone to various illnesses and last week suffered around 40 severe epileptic seizures.”
She added: “The money is a derisory amount though it will help with making adaptations to the house for Robert’s benefit. What matters is the recognition that MMR was the reason this happened.”
The one-day medical assessment hearing was chaired by a barrister sitting with two doctors, Professor Sundara Lingam, a former consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, and Dr Adrian Allaway.
They stressed that their judgement was specific to Mr Fletcher and “should not be seen as a precedent for any other case”.
They added: “In particular, it has no relevance to the issue… as to whether there is a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.”