Tuesday 16 January 2018

Care home man tells of fears about vaccine trials

Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A SURVIVOR of a notorious mother and baby home has said he fears secret vaccine trials were far more widespread than first believed.

The scale of the vaccine trials conducted on children in the Irish mother and baby homes as well as orphanages between the 1930s and 60s is now expected to prove one of the most complex elements of the proposed independent inquiry.

It will examine the regime in place at some homes, child mortality rates and claims that children were provided to wealthy Catholic couples who couldn't adopt in the US.

John Barrett was born at the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary mother and baby home at Bessborough in Cork in 1952.

He is convinced he was part of vaccine trials despite the fact there is no documentation linking him to the controversy.

"I had to fight tooth and nail to get my file from Bessborough. What I got after years of work was a single page document," he said. "There was a small reference at the bottom of the page to a blood test or transfusion on me. It is almost illegible. But what does that mean? I am convinced that I was part of those trials," he said.

John believes the proof is in his health history. Despite being a fit 61 years, he has been plagued by a series of health issues over the past 20 years.

"I have asthma, diabetes and only a few weeks ago I was told I am a celiac. I have had numerous other medical problems over the years the most serious of which was a hospitalisation after I started haemorrhaging in my stomach," he added.

The Waterford-based campaigner is convinced that the scant records on many children from homes like Bessborough is proof something was not right.

The tragedy of John's story is that, having being released from Bessborough back into the care of his mother, he was eventually sent to a Church-run school in Cork city as a teen where he was sexually abused by notorious paedophile, Br Ambrose.

Pioneering research by UCC historian Michael Dwyer has already clarified elements of the controversial vaccine trials.

He found that 2,051 children drawn from facilities at Bessborough and Sean Ros Abbey in Roscrea, Tipperary were part of vaccine trials.

Mari Steed, (54), now based in the US, was born at Bessborough in 1960. She discovered that she was part of four vaccine trials when searching files in 1998 to locate her mother.

"We were used as human guinea pigs," she said.

The vaccine trials were conducted by the UK firm, Burroughs Wellcome testing a single dose diphtheria vaccine.

GSK, which now owns the former Wellcome operation, said it was distressed by the recent revelations.

Mr Dwyer said his research hints at "the tip of a very large and submerged iceberg".

Irish Independent

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