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The doctor who raised the alarm about the possible link between the MMR jab and autism - Dr Andrew Wakefield - is facing charges of serious professional misconduct. Barbara Panvel wonders if his supporters and critics are both missing something.

Is this MMR debate a smokescreen? I think so.

Surely the real problem for babies for so many years has been thelittle-known presence of poisonous mercury in most vaccines.

Someinfants are susceptible to this cumulative nerve-poison and the triple MMR onslaught was perhaps the last attack their immune system could endure.

As long ago as1999 the US Food and Drug administration announced that mercury in vaccines, accumulated in babies under six months old, exceeded safety limits set by their Environmental Protection Agency.

Today, with the exception of some flu vaccines, none of the vaccines used in the U.S. to protect preschool children against 12 infectious diseases contain mercury as a preservative.

In 2000 the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products said that mercury-free vaccines should be recommended for vaccination on newborns, but the UK’s Department of Health continued to maintain there is no evidence of such a link.

Though a mercury-free vaccine, Infanrix, was available to the UK's Department of Health, GPs were told that orders for the MMR vaccine would be met by a product containing mercury.

In 2004 a report shown by the US Institute of Medicine linked autism to baby vaccines which contain a mercury-based preservative.

Following those research findings later that year it was decided to scrap a mercury vaccine given to eight-week-old babies in Britain, but at least four more vaccines containing the poisonous metal remained in use by the National Health Service.

Some flu vaccines and even rarely used child vaccines containing the product will still be prescribed. It is feared that mercury could still damage babies if flu vaccines are given to pregnant women.

Though our government has rightly been criticised for following the American lead in other areas, this is one case in which it would have been beneficial.

As it is, the UK enjoys the unenviable position of being the last developed country to have withdrawn mercury from baby vaccines.

Also see “Witch Hunt Claim as Doc Faces MMR Charges

And “MMR - Choose Science Over Scare Stories

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