Trials And Error


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Toys and flowers at the Little Angels memorial plot at Bessborough House in
Blackrock, Cork

Yesterday afternoon, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs published its Report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Mother and Baby Homes.

On page 17 of the report it begins to deal with the matter of the 1961, 1971 and 1975 vaccine trials carried out by Burroughs Wellcome – since taken over by GlaxoSmithKline – as seen in the following screengrab:

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However, it’s missing something.

Specifically, the final sentence in that paragraph is missing the total number of children which received the vaccines.

The sentence reads:

These vaccines were administered to a total of children in Ireland, one hundred and twenty three of whom were resident in children’s homes in various parts of Ireland.


Furthermore, the report states 123 children who received the vaccines were residents of children’s homes across Ireland.

However, the report then includes a table which summarises the findings of a report into the vaccines carried out by the then Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health, Dr Jim Kiely, in 2000 and the figures in the table don’t add up to 123.

From the report:

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According to the figures compiled in the table 180 (58 + 69 + 53) – and not 123 – of the children who received these vaccines, in 1961, 1971 and 1973, were residents in children’s homes.

In addition, the report didn’t include the 1930-1935 trials of a Burroughs Wellcome vaccine for diphtheria carried out on 2000 children in residential institutions. Nor did it mention the 1965 trial of a ‘five-in-one’ vaccine carried out on Philip Delaney at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home, Cork.

Meanwhile,  the report also found:

“The Therapeutic Substances Act, 1932 was the statute governing the importation and use of vaccines in these trials. The Chief Medical Officer was unable to locate or identify documentation which would confirm whether or not the legal requirements of this Act were complied with in respect of these three trials.”

And in relation to the matter of consent, it found:

“As the subjects of these trials were children, effective consent to their participation in the trials could only have been given by their parents or guardians. The requirement for such consent to be obtained was clearly understood by researchers and articulated in a number of documents available to the research community at the time.” 

Read the full inter-departmental report here

Previously: Medical Trials And Children Of Lesser Gods

Why So Kind GlaxoSmithKline?

Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

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15 thoughts on “Trials And Error

  1. sqoid

    The sequential nature of the number 123 has me thinking that it could of been a placeholder number that was intended to be replaced. Akin to putting in 999 or XXX

    1. Matt

      Maybe, but when its spelt out instead of written as just the numbers it seems a bit harder to believe.

    2. Anne

      X would be used if the number was unknown.

      Table for Trial 1 – 58 ‘Took part’. (residents of mother and baby homes)
      Trial 2 – 69 children resident of a child’s home in Dublin ‘had blood taken’ (of which?) 12 were administered vaccines.
      Trial 3 – 53. (children in mother and baby homes).
      That’s 123.

      Also, there’s mention of the same areas – ‘homes in Dublin’, so you could have had the same children being used for multiple vaccines. I.e. totting up the vaccines administered doesn’t equal to the amount of children they were administered to.

  2. H

    Probably typos due to rushed out nature of report, no doubt a corrected version will be available shortly

    1. Legal Coffee Drinker

      Yes, I considered the possibility that the figure 123 might relate to the number of kids in homes who participated in the trial in the broader sense (including kids who received the old vaccine as a control) but of the narrower number who had trial vaccines administered.

      The problem is that if you look at the CMO’s report itself – as opposed to the summary of it in the Interdepartmental Report – it is quite clear that in Trial 1, only some of the 53 kids who participated received the new vaccine, so if controls were being consistently excluded, the figure should not be 123, but lower than that.

      You can find the CMO Report here. P10 says only 28 infants got the new vaccine in trial 1, the other 30 appear to have been controls who received the standard vaccine.

      So no matter what way you look at it there appears to have been some mistake in computation in the Inter-Departmental Report (quite apart from the exclusion of clinical trials other than those featured in the CMO’s Report)

          1. Legal Coffee Drinker

            Thank you!

            Yes it appears that the figure of 123 has been computed based on the number of kids who participated in the trials who had vaccines (either the experimental or standard vaccine) administered, excluding kids who participated in the trial in the sense of having blood taken but were not vaccinated.

            Although I see that the CMO says in relation to Trial 1 that it’s very difficult to get a figure for kids who participated at all – but then goes on to give a figure of 58.

            Given that the Report more or less cuts and pastes from the CMO report it’s a pity they couldn’t manage to cut and paste the overall figure of children involved (presumably again excluding those subjected to the process of having blood taken but not subsequently vaccinated) which is actually given in the CMO report.

            Thanks again!

  3. Legal Coffee Drinker

    Great work. There are so many unanswered questions about these trials. Disappointing that the inaccuracy was not picked up on in the Report.

  4. Suspendered Animation

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the number of children in homes involved in the vaccine trials would seem, like, to be a crucial issue?

    1. Legal Coffee Drinker


      You’d think it would be crucial enough, given the somewhat selective basis on which the figure of 123 was reached (excluding kids who had bloods taken but including kids who got the standard vaccine only), to merit a chapter or part chapter setting out the criteria for determining involvement/participation, whatever you call it in the trials. But then the CMO didn’t do so and they seem to have just cut and pasted (incompletely!) from the CMO report summary, which is not encouraging as to the level of attention shown in preparing the report.

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