IN RECENT months health authorities have implored parents to be responsible and vaccinate their children.

As well as whooping cough, diptheria, tetanus, polio and German measles (rubella), vaccines are now urged against hepatitis B and the "new" disease Haemophilis Influenzae b (Hib), which causes a host of invasive infections including the brain disease meningitis.

However, leading doctors and scientists here and overseas are seriously questioning the value of mass vaccination programs and claim vaccinations may in fact be doing more harm than good by sabotaging our natural immune systems.

Many scientific studies published in the world's leading medical journals, as well as doctors' first-hand experience, support their claims. Not all the vaccination sceptics are opposed to all vaccines, but they all share two basic criticisms.

Firstly, that current mass vaccination programs are neither necessary nor effective in normal conditions in developed countries.

Secondly, injecting foreign material into the blood stream is a dangerous process which can cause very serious illnesses. Where viruses are concerned, the results can be even more unpredictable and dangerous.

In contrast, federal and state health authorities still insist that vaccination is necessary and effective.

Their biggest pro-vaccination argument is that without it, our society would be ravaged by epidemics of killer diseases. The director of the communicable diseases section of the Federal Health Department, Dr Robert Hall, points to the success of mass vaccination in reducing the diseases of the 19th Century: small pox, typhoid, diptheria, polio, measles and so on.

Medical literature shows that there has never been an outbreak of any infectious disease in which vaccinated children did not contract that disease.Supporters also admit that there are risks of side-effects from vaccination - including death - and that diseases like whooping cough and rubella will never be eliminated, even if every baby is immunised.

Melbourne specialist Dr John Piesse claims that parents are being given a false picture of vaccinations.

"It's an absolute scandal, there is no examination of the risks and side-effects," he said.

While doctors undoubtedly believe they are doing the best for their patients, surveys have shown that very few general practitioners have the time to read original research.

And those who have dared to publicly question vaccination programs have been warned that their careers are at stake and they even risk being de-registered.

Dr Peter Baratosy, of Adelaide, says he expected a brick through his window after he sent a letter to the GP magazine Australian Doctor, in which he criticised the frequent articles on the benefits of immunisation.

"Vaccination is not as safe, nor as effective in preventing infectious diseases as it is claimed and, despite all denials, it does more harm than good," Dr Baratosy wrote.

"The US is experiencing epidemics (and that country is the only one where vaccination is compulsory).A paper in the New England Journal of Medicine (Volume 316:13) concluded that measles can occur in a population which is 99 per cent vaccinated and 95 per cent are immune.

"Australia should follow the lead of other countries and not push for vaccination in any shape or form.

"The WHO (World Health Organisation) pushes vaccination, but note that one of the main sponsors of the WHO is the American Drug Trust, whose business is making vaccines. A conflict of interest perhaps?" Health authorities do not even want medical students to learn about the possible hazards of vaccination. When health education students at Canberra University organised a seminar to provide a balanced view on the subject last year, the ACT Health Department angrily claimed the university had no right to hold a seminar "against vaccination".

Yet the department had previously held a compulsory, very pro-vaccination seminar.

"I know many doctors who won't vaccinate their own children because they know about the side-effects, but they won't talk about it publicly," seminar organiser Anna Lyons said.

"But some of them are just starting to come out of the closet now." Dr Viera Scheibner, a retired principal scientist with the NSW Government, became drawn into the vaccination debate through her concern about cot death.

After combing through 20,000 pages of medical literature on the subject for the past 18 months, she agrees that ineffectiveness and dangers of vaccines are well-documented.

She says medical literature provides strong evidence that vaccinated children are more susceptible to serious diseases, and cot death, because the vaccinations have reduced their bodies' natural defences.

In Australia and elsewhere, concerned parents and citizens are banding together to try to get a more accurate view of vaccination. The NSW-based Immunisation Investigation Group (IIG) has expanded into all states since its formation in 1986.

But like the dissenting doctors, it has faced an uphill battle against health authorities and their warnings of imminent "epidemics".

Until now, the US has been the strongest pro-vaccination developed nation. But in view of growing concern about vaccine side-effects the US Institute of Medicine last year set up a task force to review the medical literature.

The task force concluded: There was enough evidence to suggest a causal link between pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus with anaphylactic reactions, febrile convulsions, seizures with fever, shock and collapse, persistent crying and acute brain damage.

There was evidence of a causal relationship between rubella vaccine and acute and chronic arthritis.

Numerous other possible side-effects have been suggested but not proven by the evidence, including a relationship between DPT and epilepsy.

The task force commented that not enough studies had been done on these issues. As a result a two-year study on vaccine reactions was set up.

At the same time, the first chink in the pro-vaccination armor of Australian authorities may have appeared with the decision last January to end vitamin K injections for all newborn babies. Parents are now given a choice between injections and oral form.

The National Health and Medical Research Council and Colleges of Paediatrics and of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists all recommended oral doses of the vitamin instead.

Their decision followed a British study which found that babies given the injection were far more likely to develop cancer in childhood than those given the vitamin orally.

But state health departments and hospitals claim the British study is highly questionable and many intend to continue using the injection until supplies of oral Vitamin K are readily available, which could be up to six months.

And in May 1991 the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine Pluserix was withdrawn from health department clinics in Australia and New Zealand because British research linked the mumps component to the brain disease meningitis.

While health departments insist the mumps vaccines now on the market are safe, sceptics are unconvinced.

In health clinics parents are given little information about the risks of reactions to vaccines. But the Federal and NSW Health Departments do issue a booklet called The Benefits and Risks of Immunisation to those seeking further information.

The booklet claims that "fever and neurological conditions occur spontaneously in children whether immunised or not".

Against this background, it is sometimes difficult to determine if a recent immunisation is causally or merely coincidentally related to a child's illness.

In the experience of the IIG, however, doctors will never admit that there is a causal link until it is proven beyond doubt in a courtroom.The booklet also claims, in relation to whooping cough, "epidemics occur when immunisation rates fall".

In Britain in 1974 to 1978 it says whooping cough immunisation levels fell from 80 per cent to 31 per cent, resulting in 102,500 cases and 300 reported deaths. But a report in the Lancet in 1982 (Pine and Clarkson) showed that the drop in vaccinations in the UK in 1974 was followed by three years of low incidence before an outbreak in 1977.

Moreover, in Sweden at the same time (1977-79) there was a whooping cough "epidemic" of the same scale as that in Britain, despite the fact that 92 to 94 per cent of Swedish babies were immunised. It was reported in the Lancet in 1984 that since the decline of pertussis immunisation in the UK, hospital admissions and death rates from whooping cough had fallen.

Even the pro-vaccinators admit that there is no prospect of wiping out whooping cough by mass vaccination because adults can become carriers.

The sceptics claim that with or without vaccination, whooping cough will occur; that with modern medicine it is a treatable disease; but that the vaccine is making it a more serious disease for those children who do catch it.

In addition, the dangerous side-effects of whooping cough (pertussis) vaccines are so well-documented that Japan, the US, the UK and New Zealand all pay government compensation for damage to children caused by routine vaccinations.

Italy does not vaccinate against whooping cough, Hamburg in Germany stopped in 1962 and Sweden in 1979 because of concern about the side-effects.

In the US, drug companies paid out an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion a year in compensation for vaccine damage. Until recently the US Government took responsibility because insurers threatened to stop insuring the vaccine manufacturers.

In most cases the compensation is awarded although the doctors refuse to accept that the vaccine was responsible. In Australia, no compensation has been paid for vaccine damage.

"Officially, vaccines are advertised as effective and so safe that the adverse reactions, if discussed at all, are dismissed something like, 'You or your child will be off color for a couple of days'," said Dr Scheibner.

But while evidence about side-effects mounts, drug companies and health authorities want new vaccines to be adopted in mass programs.

Despite their obvious vulnerability, new-born babies in some hospitals in Sydney and Canberra, and possibly elsewhere, are now being given hepatitis B vaccine.

Nurses have admitted privately that the vaccine is sometimes given without the knowledge or consent of parents, but will not speak openly.Yet there is no evidence that babies have a high risk of catching the illness.

In fact a study by Dr Margaret Burgess of the Children's Hospital in Sydney last year found that hepatitis B was not transmitted between school children who are far more socially active than newborn babies.

Dr Burgess, who has always been strongly pro-vaccination, also publicly expressed concern about reports that hep B vaccine had caused severe diseases of the nervous system including Guillain-Barre syndrome, optic neuritis and a progressive demyelinating conditon, even when the safer re-combinant vaccine was used.

There are similar concerns about another new vaccine, Hib, which has now been embraced by the federal and state health departments for use on all babies over two months, starting from July 1.

But a number of different Hib vaccines have been tried and withdrawn from sale because they have proven ineffective and dangerous. Dr Scheibner says the bacteria which cause Hib normally lives in healthy people without causing harm. She says it is only since mass vaccination began 40 years ago that the serious systemic diseases caused by Hib have become a problem.

In 1988 a US study analysed 228 cases of invasive disease due to Hib in vaccinated children. A high proportion of the cases had occured within two months of vaccination and 10 within 72 hours of vaccination.

Another US study last year tested four different Hib vaccines and found that only one resulted in a significant increase in antibodies (supposed to be the key to immunisation), after two injections, and even then only in 75 per cent of the children vaccinated.

Despite these studies, the Federal Health Department says the PRP-OMP vaccine has good short-term results and there is no doubt the vaccine works.

Dr David Ritchie is a New Zealand GP with a Diploma in Child Health.Until five years ago he was part of the pro-vaccination establishment, happily recommending vaccination to parents.

He changed his mind after being asked to give a talk on the problems of vaccination - he thought there was none - and was forced to research the issue.

He says he was amazed at the amount of medical literature questioning the procedures and even the rationale of immunisation. Since then, he has devoted most of his time to studying the latest evidence on vaccination and is regarded as a world expert.

Dr Ritchie says the US Institute's findings on vaccination are no surprise to doctors like himself who see effects including convulsions, recurring infections, excema, and allergies.

He believes the latest research raises a number of disturbing questions about vaccination by providing a much broader picture of our immune system and how vaccination affects it.

New work in genetics suggests that some people have a particular susceptibility to one disease, which is why the vaccine does not work for them.

No vaccine gives 100 per cent protection; but the vaccine is least effective for those most at risk, then perhaps other treatments are needed.

When viruses are mixed together as they are in combined vaccines they can cause dangerous hybrids.A research study showed that when injected separately into mice, two herpes simplex viruses were quite harmless.But when both were injected together 70 per cent of the mice died. They were found to contain 11 new viruses, of which eight were neuro-toxic.

At least six new diseases have been identified which were totally unknown before the 1960s. A Texas University professor postulated that the diseases could have arisen as a result of mass vaccination.

Chronic fatigue syndrome or "yuppie flu" is one of the mystery illnesses now plaguing our society.One study of CFS victims found that 70 per cent had rubella virus in their bodies, which could only have come from vaccination.

Polio vaccine in the 1960s and '70s was cultured on monkey kidney tissue and has recently been shown to contain at least 40 different monkey viruses. The best known, SV 40, does not occur in human beings, but in the past two decades has been increasingly identified in brain tumors in children.

The underlying principle of vaccination is in question from studies that show that the immune system is much more complex than mere antibodies. It has been shown, for example, that the immune system responds to stress; research at Melbourne University in particular has shown that cancer survival rates are related to caring support.

Studies on mice have shown that their immune system can react on the basis of a memory. Mice given a sugary liquid mixed with poison will later become sick and die if given the same liquid, without the toxin.

But it is known that babies' liver function is affected for two to four weeks after DPT vaccination.If a new food such as cow's milk or wheat is introduced during this period, it could mean that the child's immune system later reacts to the new food as though it was DPT, that is, with an allergic reaction.

Dr Ritchie says very little research has been done on the actual effect of vaccinations on children and our knowledge of the immune system is "minimal".

"I guess you realise that the big issues of this end of the century for health are a lot to do with the immune system," he said.

"The concept of why we vaccinate is based on a reasonably old concept of the immune system which is rapidly changing.

"Why is the immune system not coping so well, why is AIDS around and chronic fatigue sydrome and allergies and rheumatic disorders and the auto-immune diseases? "There's a whole host of illnesses that we're now seeing more and more frequently." Some doctors believe that the polio vaccine is better and safer than the others because it is delivered orally, not by injection.

But polio vaccine, together with the others, has been linked to the increasing incidence of multiple sclerosis, a very similar disease which is now known to be caused by a disorder in the immune system.

And polio outbreaks were documented in Israel and Taiwan after intense polio vaccination campaigns in 1988 and 1984.

AFTER a serious outbreak of polio in 1949-50, a report in Lancet (1950) reported that many children contracted the disease shortly after vaccination against whooping cough or diptheria and whooping cough.

Just as alarming is overseas evidence and new Australian research suggesting that vaccination could be a factor in cot death.

Critics are now asking whether it is appropriate to vaccinate newborn babies, whose immune systems may not be mature and who may still be recovering from the shock of birth.

Dr Scheibner believes she has convincing evidence that vaccination causes physical stress in babies, which in some babies can lead to death.

The link between sudden infant death and vaccination is recognised in Japan. Baby deaths due to vaccination dropped more than 90 per cent in Japan, when the age of vaccination was raised to 24 months. But cot death in America multiplied more than 400-fold between the early 1960s, when mass vaccination began, and the late 1970s, and continues to rise as a cause of infant death.

In Japan, compensation was paid for the deaths of 37 babies due to vaccination between 1970 and 1974.Of these, 11 were officially categorised as "sudden deaths".

Then in 1975, because of public concern over baby deaths, the age for whooping cough vaccination was raised from about three months to 24 months. Japan's cot death rate then plummetted to the lowest in the world.

From 1975 to 1980, compensation was paid for only eight babies who suffered severe reactions to vaccination and for only three deaths, none of which was a "sudden death" according to the official records.

The Japanese experience was studied in a report in Paediatrics Journal in 1988 by a group of researchers who, ironically, were in favor of vaccination.

"The category 'sudden death' is . . . instructive in that the entity disappeared following both (vaccines) when immunisation was delayed until a child was 24 months of age," they stated.

"It is clear that delaying the initial vaccination until a child is 24 months . . . reduces most of the temporally associated severe adverse events." Another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1984, studied trends in the death of American babies aged four weeks to one year.It found that although the overall rate of post-neonatal deaths dropped significantly between 1962 and 1978, the incidence of cot death jumped alarmingly.

"A dramatic increase occurred in the reported rates of unexplained sudden infant death (SIDS), which emerged as the leading reported cause of post-neonatal mortality," the study concluded.

Dr Scheibner has followed up these findings with original research using a high-tech baby breathing monitor, Cotwatch, developed by her husband Leif Karlsson, a medical electronics engineer.

With Tasmanian paediatrician Dr Neville Newman, Mr Karlsson and Dr Scheibner have conducted a study of 10 newborn babies, continuously monitoring their breathing over six months.

They found that the stress-induced breathing occurred after DPT and polio vaccination. Although the scale of the flare-ups varied from child to child, they occurred at similar times after the vaccination - at 48 hours, five to seven days, 14 to 16 days and then 21 to 25 days.

When Dr Scheibner compared the Cotwatch microprocessor records to published data on cot deaths, she concluded that significantly more babies died at times when they were probably experiencing stress-induced breathing.

Previous studies have found no link between vaccination and cot death. These studies have only counted babies who died within 24 hours of the injection - whereas health authorities acknowledge that reactions can occur weeks later.

Dr Scheibner is convinced that the toxic effects of vaccines can slowly debilitate babies until they die, sometimes 25 days after the injection.

While stress breathing can be triggered by many factors including teething, exposure to cigarette smoke, fatigue, overhandling, or illness, she says vaccination usually causes the most severe reaction.

Her cot death theory conflicts with the latest orthodox wisdom which states, on the basis of a Tasmanian study in 1991, that cot death is at least partially caused by overheating promoted by lying babies face-down to sleep.

The Tasmanian study also overlooked vaccination as a factor which might have contributed to the deaths.

But Dr Scheibner claims the ages of the babies in the Tasmanian study provides more evidence that babies die after vaccination.

A registered charity trust, Medical Breakthrough, chaired by Dr Ray Choy, has been set up to raise funds for a large-scale study of babies' breathing patterns.

Its aim is to monitor the breathing of 500 babies in western Sydney over six months, under the medical directorship of Dr Wilfred Levy.

At present, the financial motivation in the vaccination debate rests entirely on the side of the drug companies which produce vaccines and are often responsible for testing them.

But this could quickly change if one of the parents or children whose lives have been altered by vaccination succeeds in a damages lawsuit.

The IIG suggests that parents document their children's immunisation fully, right down to the name and batch number of the vaccine used.

A Sydney law firm, Teakle and Ormsby, has recently opened its doors for vaccine damage cases on grounds that there is sufficient medical backing to challenge the orthodox view.

Anna Lyons, who has been contacted by numerous parents since the Canberra seminar, says mothers and fathers are no longer willing to "take their medicine" in good faith.

"They have moved the vaccination age down to eight weeks, they would like to make it six weeks because just after giving birth women are so vulnerable, they are easily intimidated," Ms Lyons said.

"It just makes me sick in the stomach when I hear about another vaccine-damaged baby and I know this didn't have to happen."