Tuesday 24 April 2018

Drugs trial doctor agrees to help inquiry

Medical expert made polio vaccines for tests at mother and baby homes

Flavia Simas placing paper dolls, some of 796 in memory of the children in Tuam who did not receive a proper burial at a vigil in Eyre Sq Galway and (inset) Dr Alex Kanarek
Flavia Simas placing paper dolls, some of 796 in memory of the children in Tuam who did not receive a proper burial at a vigil in Eyre Sq Galway and (inset) Dr Alex Kanarek

Chris Donoghue

One of the doctors behind a clinical drug trial at five mother and baby homes says he is willing to travel to Ireland to be interviewed by the upcoming government inquiry into the establishments.

Canada-based Dr Alex Kanarek (84) has told the Irish Independent that he will co-operate with any inquiry – but he wants business-class flights if he has to travel to Dublin.

He confirmed to the Irish Independent that he manufactured a vaccine given to 58 children in 1960. Speaking from his home in Toronto, the retired doctor said: "My role was to prepare the polio vaccine combinations that were used."

This specific trial involved testing a 3-in-1 and a 4-in-1 vaccine on 25 children at Bessborough House in Cork, 14 children at St Patrick's in Dublin, six children at St Peter's in Westmeath, four children at St Clare's in Stamullen, and nine children at the Good Shepherd in Meath.

Dr Kanarek was in correspondence with the Laffoy Child Abuse Commission in 2001 but was not called as a witness before that inquiry ran into legal difficulties. He said: "A few years back I gave the commission all the information I had on my role in the trials."

On a fresh investigation, Dr Kanarek added: "I suppose I would be willing to share the same information with a new inquiry, if that was necessary, but that would mean my travelling from Toronto to Dublin.

"If they needed me to appear in person, and at 84 years, I cannot travel economy-class across the Atlantic and expect to be of any use when I arrive."


In 1960, Dr Kanarek worked for Wellcome Laboratories in the UK, which was later bought by GlaxoSmithKlein which this week vowed to co-operate with the government inquiry.

In total, three drug trials are known to have been conducted on 298 children across 10 mother and baby homes or orphanages between 1960 and 1976.

A paper published in the 'British Medical Journal' in 1962 revealed some of the details of the trial involving Dr Kanarek and the five homes. It states that multiple injections were given to the children as young as five weeks old a month apart.

On receiving the second injection, 16 of the 25 children at Bessborough developed fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. All the children recovered fully and the cause of the outbreak was never determined.

On Monday, one of the children adopted from Bessborough, Christie, told Newstalk 106-108: "My arms and legs were very badly scarred. But when I asked my Mum 'why?' she basically said when you arrived your arms were very sore and they were bandaged."

Christie has never been given access to medical files about the tests conducted on him.

Many parents from the homes dispute giving consent for the trial and the 1962 paper thanks the medical officers in charge of the homes, "for permission to carry out this investigation on infants under their care".

Those involved in conducting trials have insisted that they obtained consent.

Irish Independent

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