By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — New claims about children being used as guinea pigs in vaccine drug trials during the last 60 years are expected to be made this week when a wide-ranging inquiry begins in Dublin on Wednesday, Jan. 23.
The probe, being carried out under the auspices of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, will center on three clinical trials in state-run institutions in Dublin and Cork in 1960-61, ’70 and ’73.
However, the commission will also investigate other possible vaccine trails carried out between 1940 and ’87 based on allegations from anybody who comes forward with details.
A spokesman for the commission, headed by High Court Judge Mary Laffoy, said she would be explaining the role of the inquiry and taking applications for legal representation at the hearings.
People who want to come forward if they feel they had been involved in trials as children in state-run institutions have until Feb. 15 to contact the commission. The trials involved a number of vaccines, for diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio and German measles.
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The spokesman would not say how many people had contacted the commission so far.
“Any expressions of interest, letters or telephone calls to us are being handled by barristers that have been specially appointed,” the spokesman said.
In the three specific trials at the center of the inquiry, the vaccines were administered to 211 children, 123 of whom were resident in homes and orphanages.
“They will be our starting point,” the spokesman said.
The commission will inquire into the “circumstances, legality, conduct, ethical propriety and effects” of the trials on the children involved.
Since 1989, the Progressive Democrats’ Dun Laoghaire councilor, Victor Boyhan, has been leading a campaign to find out the truth about what happened with a group of people who had been in institutions as children.
He said allegations about other drug trials would be raised. He had been in the Birds Nest children’s home in Dun Laoghaire and said people had “vivid memories” about other forms of drug trials or tests carried out there.
“People say there were a substantial number of other trials they recall,” he said. “In the mid-’60s there are clear recollections of drug trials which they describe as pajama/smartie parties with all the kids brought together into this big assembly hall.
“At long last, after all the years of campaigning, we welcome the inquiry. All we want are the facts in relation to the matter.”
The inquiry was set up after a lengthy inquiry by Department of Health chief medical officer, Dr. James Kiely, into whether the trials were legal or if appropriate consent was given by the parents or guardians of the children.
Health Minister Michael Martin said Kiely’s report raised “as many questions as it answered.”
It left him asking the question: “Who was minding the rights of the children?” He said he was “puzzled” by a lack of surviving documentation.