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'We need a full State investigation': Councillor who was on vaccine trial tables motion on inquiry

Francis Timmons only recently found out that he was on two vaccine trials at Madonna House in the early 1970s.

Then and now - Francis Timmons as a young boy in Madonna House, and now as an independent councillor for Clondalkin
Then and now - Francis Timmons as a young boy in Madonna House, and now as an independent councillor for Clondalkin
Image: Francis Timmons

A SOUTH DUBLIN councillor who recently found out that he was an unwitting participant on a vaccine trial when he was a toddler is petitioning his fellow councillors to call for a full State inquiry into the practice.

Clondalkin-based Francis Timmons spent the first few years of his life at Madonna House in Dublin, an institution run by the Sisters of Charity.

Earlier this month, Timmons told TheJournal.ie about how he had just discovered that he was a participant on two trials in the 1970s – one for a diphtheria tetanus pertussis (DTP) vaccine and a “Plain New” vaccine as part of the Trivax study for similar diseases.

At a meeting of South Dublin County Council, Timmons will table a motion to call on Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone to order a full State investigation into these vaccine trials.

Madonna House

The home that Timmons spent some years in was one of many where children were given injections as part of vaccine trials in the 1960s and 1970s.

For over two decades now, questions asked about vaccine trials carried out on children in the 1960s and 70s have not yielded definitive answers, with State investigations still ongoing.

A 2000 HSE report from then-chief medical officer James Kiely provided details of three vaccine trials that occurred during this period by a company called Wellcome (now called GlaxoSmithKline).

The report by Kiely propelled the government to establish a commission to look specifically at these matters in 2001. That commission was tasked with investigating “into the circumstances, legality, conduct, ethical propriety and effects on the subjects” of these trials and potentially others.

That tribunal of inquiry did not get very far however, and was shut down after a successful legal challenge by a retired doctor who had participated in the trials.

This investigation had been added to the wider Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2009, which published the Ryan Report in 2009.

After the Ryan Report was published, legislation was prepared so that the records that were compiled in preparation of the report would be placed in a sealed archive for a period of 75 years by the National Archives.

While investigating vaccine trials is contained within the terms of reference for the Mother and Baby Homes Commission Investigation - which uncovered evidence of mass graves at the Tuam mother and baby home earlier this year - Timmons said that people deserve answers on this urgently.

He believes that information relating to the unsuccessful inquiry into the specific issue of vaccines could be contained in information given to the commission.

Timmons said: “I won’t be around in 75 years to see the files. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered and I am appealing to the Minister for Health to meet me and have a full State investigation.”

Answers

Timmons will ask fellow councillors to support his motion to petition the government for an inquiry in this matter.

Some of the question he said should be answered include:

  • Who gave consent for the trials to be carried out on him, and can a copy of this consent be provided?
  • Were the Sisters of Charity paid for this trial? If so, how much?
  • Were any long or short-term side effects observed from the trial, and did anyone suffer any lasting damage?
  • Can all of the trials carried out in State institutions be listed, and information provided to all of the people who participated in them?

The next meeting of South Dublin County Council will take place in the coming weeks, and Timmons hopes to have the motion before councillors soon.

“From ones I’ve talked to already,” he said, “it seems like there’s lots of support.”

Read: Councillor calls for action on hate crime after being sent homophobic letter

Read: ‘I had no idea that I could’ve gotten these injections’: Home survivor told he was put on vaccine trial

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