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Scariff's Valerie O Shaughnessy who is campaigning for a neonatal screening programme to identify newborns who are immunocompromised and who are, according to some studies, at increased risk for conditions like autism. Photograph by John Kelly

Valerie Vocalises Vaccine Link

AN EAST Clare woman who believes that her son’s severe autism may be linked to vaccines he received in early childhood has launched a campaign calling for all new-born children to be screened for vulnerability to potential side-effects.

Valerie O’Shaughnessy from Scariff sought the support of members of Clare County Council who approved a motion calling on Minister Simon Harris to introduce such a national screening protocol. The motion will now go before all other local authorities in the State.

Valerie told The Clare Champion that her own experience, combined with ongoing personal research and review of the scientific evidence, has led her to the conclusion that children, like her own son Dara, who have compromised immune systems, are potentially at risk from the administration of live vaccines.

“I have a social conscience I have a moral duty,” she says. “And I trying to bring this to the fore because I’m concerned about Irish children. I’m concerned about Irish families, I’ve lived the system. I have struggled my entire adult life has been with this issue. And it breaks my heart, the impact it’s having and it’s touched every town, every village, every city.”

Valeris says her motivation to call for a screening protocol comes from the health minister’s comments earlier this year on the possible introduction of mandatory vaccination.

“There is a global move to introduce mandatory vaccination and it is on the cards, it’s going to be introduced [here] eventually,” Valerie told The Champion. “My concern is that if we are going to go down the road whereby we take away parental control and have the State take responsibility, we need guarantees that it is going to be safe and effective, as it possibly can be, and that’s where screening comes in. The immunization programme is a public health measure which is aimed at controlling the outbreak of infectious disease within the population and it is necessary and it has achieved great success but there is that cohort that are contra-indicated, and we need to identify them. I’m hoping that by sharing what I’ve had had to learn will go some way to improving the existing system.”

When asked by The Champion how certain she is about the link between her son’s autism and the administration of early childhood vaccines, Valerie’s response is: “Absolutely, 100%, categorically, without question.”

She acknowledges the issue of a link between the likes of the MMR vaccine and autism is “controversial and emotive” but is clear in her belief that for those with underlying disorders of the immune system, there is sufficient research to advise caution.

Valerie admits that part of her hypothesis for the link, in her son’s case, between immunity disorders and regressive autism, is down to a maternal instinct. She voiced concerns before Dara had completed the full course of vaccinations.

“I raised my concerns at 12 months that he was autistic and that’s when alarm bells should have been ringing. That’s when he should have been identified and shouldn’t have had further vaccination. At 18 months his was so ill, his vaccinations were postponed. At 20 months, I was pressured [into vaccination].”

Valerie says the consequences of a failure to recognise her son’s vulnerability to immunisation side-effects was devastating.

“That’s the heartache. To see the regression. For me, it’s a double whammy. It was a public health failure on one side, and then a secondary failure in terms of [the lack of] services.”

Valerie’s own experience, as the mother of a now 23-year-old with severe autism, is clearly a major inspiration for her campaign, but she denies that compensation is a motivator. “I am not interested. My life’s work was to show his right to live and his right to treatment. Nobody has a difficulty with having a child with a disability. But there’s a grave difficulty there when you see the injustice that is served upon that population, and when you can understand the mechanism.”

The suggestion that she may be seen as part of the so-called ‘anti-vax’ movement is also something that Valerie refutes. “I don’t get involved. I can make my own mind up. I’m only interested in proper peer-reviewed validated scientific research and what the scientific literature is telling us, because that’s how you will find a solution and a way forward.”

The support of Clare County Council is something Valerie says she is very grateful for. Tabling the motion before the local authority last week, in conjunction with Councillors Ann Norton and Bill Chambers, Councillor Pat Hayes said he was “not in any way, shape or form” against the current vaccination programme, but that the issue of screening to identify those who were immuno-compromised, and who might suffer side effects, had to be addressed.

The support of Deputy Denis Naughten, who tabled a Parliamentary Question to Minister Harris asking for an outline of measures to screen new-borns for immune disorders, has also been a major step forward for Valerie and she is in the process of seeking a face-to-face meeting with Simon Harris.

“I am in the process of starting to have some very important and relevant meetings. And it’s so positive. My intention is to get the right personnel around a table, to start opening up that debate. We have a duty of care to our children, not just the healthy within the community.”



About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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