Northern Ireland news

Inquest into Christopher Coulter 1994 death hears from second schoolboy who `developed epilepsy after MR vaccine'

Christopher Coulter (15) whose death has allegedly been linked to a combined measles and rubella vaccination

AN inquest into the 1994 death of a 15-year-old schoolboy has heard from a second pupil who believes he may have developed epilepsy after being inoculated with "the same batch" of the combined measles and rubella (MR) vaccine.

The second inquest into the death of Christopher Coulter, from Hillsborough, Co Down was ordered by Attorney General John Larkin in 2012 who said it was a case of "enormous public importance".

The original 1995 findings were that he died from asphyxiation due to a severe epileptic fit.

His parents Harold and Anne Coulter have campaigned for decades for a new inquiry, insisting he had not previously suffered from epilepsy and there was no history of that or any other seizure disorder in the family.

They said they have linked the fatal fit to the combined measles and rubella (MR) vaccine which the Belfast Cathedral choirboy received in a school inoculation programme - despite having already had measles.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson yesterday heard from Jonathan Bell who had been in the same year at Lisburn's Wallace High School as Christopher.

He described the teenager as "a sociable, friendly boy with a good sense of humour".

Mr Bell was vaccinated on December 8 1994 - "I believe from the same batch as Christopher" - and had his first epileptic fit six weeks later on January 24.

He had "three fits in quick succession" and has been on medication to manage the condition ever since and will be "for the rest of my life".

Like Christopher, Mr Bell has "no family history of epilepsy" and when asked if he believed it was linked to the MR vaccine he had received, he said: "I think it's very co-incidental, but I'm not a medical expert."

Sitting together in the witness box at Newtownards courthouse, Mr and Mrs Coulter emotionally recalled the last time they saw their son.

His mother had picked him up at around 10.30pm on Saturday December 17 from a nearby friend's house where he had been playing computer games and watching a film.

She said he had complained of feeling cold, despite "lying in front of a fire" and the day before had insisted on taking a hot bath when he came home from school "to warm himself up".

When Mr Coulter went to wake him the next morning to get ready to sing at a church service, he found his son "face down on the pillow".

He turned him over and "rubbed his chest" in an effort to rouse him, but he was "cold and blue" and a doctor later pronounced him dead.

"His death had a devastating effect on our whole family," Mr Coulter said.

The inquest continues.

***

SCIENTIFIC studies of the MMR vaccine - which replaced the MR - show one or two in a thousand children suffer febrile seizures a few weeks after receiving jab causing loss of consciousness and stiffening of the limps.

In 2014 research by Danish scientists published in the journal Nature Genetics suggested small variations in genes IFI44L and CD46 are responsible, the latter is known as a binding site for measles.

Author Bjarke Feenstra, senior researcher at Statens Serum Institut, said they are "extremely rare side effects".

In 1998 Andrew Wakefield claimed that the measles vaccine was linked to autism on the basis of a flawed study of eight children.

The Lancet medical journal formally retracted the study in 2010, citing serious flaws and an undisclosed conflict of interest.

He was struck off the medical register that same year for offences relating to dishonesty and failing to act in the best interests of vulnerable child patients.

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Northern Ireland news