Thousands of Irish children were used in secret vaccine trials in the 1930s
by Harriet Arkell and Neil Michael
Scientists secretly vaccinated more than 2,000 children in religious-run homes in suspected illegal drug trials, it emerged today. Old medical records show that 2,051 children and babies in Irish care homes were given a one-shot diphtheria vaccine for international drugs giant Burroughs Wellcome between 1930 and 1936.
There is no evidence that consent was ever sought, nor any records of how many may have died or suffered debilitating side-effects as a result. The scandal was revealed as Irish premier, Enda Kenny, ordered ministers to see whether there are more mass baby graves after the discovery that 800 infants may be buried in a septic tank outside a former mother and baby home in Tuam, Co. Galway.
The Taioseach intervened from the United States yesterday to say that he had ordered his officials to 'see what the scale is, what's involved here, and whether this is isolated or if there are others around the country that need to be looked at.'
Michael Dwyer, of Cork University’s School of History, found the child vaccination data by trawling through tens of thousands of medical journal articles and archive files. He discovered that the trials were carried out before the vaccine was made available for commercial use in the UK.
Homes where children were secretly tested included Bessborough, in Co. Cork and Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, both of which are at the centre of the mass baby graves scandal. Other institutions where children may also have been vaccinated include Cork orphanages St Joseph’s Industrial School for Boys, run by the Presentation Brothers, and St Finbarr’s Industrial School for Girls, run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.
In Dublin, it is believed that children for the trials came from St Vincent’s Industrial School, Goldenbridge, St Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys, Cabra, and St Saviours’s Dominican Orphanage.
* Scientists secretly gave 2,051 children and babies diphtheria vaccine. They were used as guinea pigs for drugs giant Burroughs Wellcome in 1930s. Academic Michael Dwyer uncovered shock truth in old medical records. He found no evidence of consent, nor of how many died or were affected. Comes as Irish PM intervenes from U.S. over scandal of mass baby grave. Hundreds of babies are believed to have been buried at former baby home. Enda Kenny says he's ordered his officials to examine 'if there are others' But Mr Dwyer said: 'What I have found is just the tip of a very large and submerged iceberg.
'The fact that no record of these trials can be found in the files relating to the Department of Local Government and Public Health, the Municipal Health Reports relating to Cork and Dublin, or the Wellcome Archives in London, suggests that vaccine trials would not have been acceptable to government, municipal authorities, or the general public.
'However, the fact that reports of these trials were published in the most prestigious medical journals suggests that this type of human experimentation was largely accepted by medical practitioners and facilitated by authorities in charge of children’s residential institutions.'
A spokesman for GSK – formerly Wellcome – said: 'The activities that have been described to us date back over 70 years and, if true, are clearly very distressing. 'We would need further details to investigate what actually took place, but the practices outlined certainly don’t reflect how modern clinical trials are carried out. We conduct our trials to the same high scientific and ethical standards, no matter where in the world they are run.'
A spokeswoman for the Sisters of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the order that ran Bessborough and Sean Ross Abbey, said that like GSK, they would also welcome an independent inquiry.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called on the Irish government to add vaccine trials into the investigative remit of any inquiry into the mother and baby homes. He said: 'We need to start with an independent investigation into the mother and baby homes which would be followed by a wider separate investigation into the vaccine testing.'
Historian Catherine Corless, whose discovery of the suspected mass baby grave at Tuam was revealed by the Mail earlier this week, said her study of death records for the St Mary's home run by Catholic Bon Secours nuns from 1925-1961 pointed to the existence of the mass grave.
The Irish PM interrupted a trade visit to San Francisco to order an inquiry in the Tuam home and others, saying that Dublin must decide what is the 'best thing to do in the interest of dealing with yet another element of our country's past.'
St Mary's was one of several such 'mother and baby' homes for 'fallen women' who had become pregnant outside marriage in early 20th century Ireland.
Another such institution was the Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary, was where Philomena Lee gave up her son for adoption in the 1950s. Her story was made into the Oscar-nominated film 'Philomena' last year.
The 'mother and baby' homes accommodated women who were ostracised from their own families and had nowhere else to turn.
Under conservative Catholic teaching of the time, children born outside of marriage were not baptised and were therefore denied a Catholic burial on consecrated ground.
[Note: Such illegal clinical trials are probably still going on in various countries sponsored by various entities. In the Irish clinical trials addressed in the article below they were sponsored by a drug company. In the US illegal clinical trials were performed also for military and “national security” purposes even until the late 1970’s. See, e.g.:
This book describes, in fascinating detail, a variety of experiments sponsored by the U.S. government in which people were exposed to radiation without their knowledge. ... the Advisory Committee appointed by President Clinton in January 1994 found that nearly 4,000 human radiation experiments—most involving very low doses of radioactive tracers—were sponsored by the federal government between 1944-1974. ... Carried out at the height of the Cold War, experiments included feeding radioactive cereal to teenagers at a school for the mentally retarded, irradiating the testicles of prison inmates, injecting plutonium into hospital patients, and intentional releases of radiation into the environment.
Some of the classified government experiments included:
* Exposing more than 100 Alaskan villagers to radioactive iodine during the 1960s.
* Feeding 49 retarded and institutionalised teenagers radioactive iron and calcium in their cereal during the years 1946-1954.
* Exposing about 800 pregnant women in the late 1940s to radioactive iron to determine the effect on the fetus.
* Injecting 7 newborns (six were Black) with radioactive iodine.
* Exposing the testicles of more than 100 prisoners to cancer-causing doses of radiation. This experimentation continued into the early 1970s.
* Exposing almost 200 cancer patients to high levels of radiation from cesium and cobalt. The AEC finally stopped this experiment in 1974.
* Administering radioactive material to psychiatric patients in San Francisco and to prisoners in San Quentin.
* Administering massive doses of full body radiation to cancer patients hospitalised at the General Hospital in Cincinnati, Baylor College in Houston, Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York City, and the US Naval Hospital in Bethesda, during the 1950s and 1960s. The experiment provided data to the military concerning how a nuclear attack might affect its troops.
* Exposing 29 patients, some with rheumatoid arthritis, to total body irradiation (100-300 rad dose) to obtain data for the military. This was conducted at the University of California Hospital in San Francisco.
The article first appeared here.