21/09/2011 10:02 BST | Updated 21/11/2011 05:12 GMT

Law Firm Faces Legal Action Over Handling Of MMR Vaccine Case

Three families who claim their children suffered injury from the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine are suing a law firm they say grouped them with a now discredited case over a link between the jab and autism.

A case was brought against the manufacturers of the MMR jab - Smithkline Beecham, Smith Kline & French Laboratories, Merck & Co and Sanofi Pasteur MDF - starting in 1999 and ending in 2007, over claims that the jab caused autism in children. However three families who say the vaccine caused neurological injury in their children, not autism, believe they were unable to claim compensation because of the way the case was dealt with.

Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, Luke Patel, a partner at Blacks, the law firm representing the three families, said:

“Within the initial MMR litigation there were three vaccines and at least 11 alleged conditions. The lead cases in the MMR vaccine litigation were focused on those claimants suffering from autism ... based on hypothetical persistence of measles virus.”

The link between MMR and autism was based on research that has since been discredited. Former surgeon Andrew Wakefield published a paper in 1998 claiming a connection between the MMR vaccine, autism and bowel disease.

Four years after publication, other researchers had failed to reproduce Wakefield's findings, while a 2004 investigation by the Sunday Times found undisclosed financial conflicts.

In 2010, Wakefield was struck off following a General Medical Council tribunal in which his research was exposed as fraudulent.

“Two of the MMR vaccines, which were used up to 1992, contained the Urabe mumps strain rather than Jeryl-Lynn mumps strain, which continues to be used today," said Patel.

The previous version of the jab, which was discontinued in 1992, has been linked to deafness, meningitis and neurological injury.

The families claim the MMR vaccine brought neurological injury and are suing the law firm that brought the original litigation against the vaccine's manufacturer.

As part of the group autism case, the families claim they were deprived of the compensation likely to come from bringing individual actions.

The children were all given the early form of the vaccine, which contained the Urabe strain of virus.

In 2002 Alasdair Breckenridge, chairman of the Committee on Safety in Medicines, stated that the Urabe strain version was "unacceptable" as a vaccine against MMR because of its potential health hazards.

“The currently available MMR vaccines, which contain the Jeryl-Lynn strain of mumps virus, are very effective, are not associated with meningitis and are the safest way of preventing measles, mumps and rubella, themselves serious and occasionally fatal diseases.”

Muddying the waters, Alexander Harris, the law firm that brought the original case has since merged with another firm, Irwin Mitchell. It is Irwin Mitchell that the families are now planning to sue.

Speaking recently in The Times, Professor Adam Finn head of the Academic Unit of Child Health at Bristol Medical School, Bristol University said:

“It is clear that this strain of mumps did cause meningo-encephalitis, which is an unpleasant but self-limiting condition. But it is hard to be sure that they rise above the background rate. It’s also not known whether this ever led to long term consequences. It’s biologically possible, it’s statistically possible, but it’s by no means sure.”

Blacks, who have accepted the families case on a no-win no-fee basis, is expecting approaches from other claimants.