We thought immunisation brain damaged our son. We were wrong

Sam Jackson and Tom Philbin were so thrilled with their bright, healthy, happy six-month-old baby. When Tom’s parents arriving from England to meet their new grandson, they  commented on what an alert bub he was. Sam recalls thinking her baby “looked wise”.

But when Luke had his routine vaccinations, the family's world fell apart. Just seventeen hours after being immunised, Sam noticed her son was twitching and had a strange look on his face.

As she was racing him to the car to take him to hospital, he started fitting so violently he was frothing at the mouth. She called an ambulance and, by the time paramedics arrived, Luke was turning blue.

''I was screaming. I thought he was dead. It was really, very traumatic,'' she recalled in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald.

Doctors assured Luke's parents that the seizures were nothing to worry about, probably related to a fever caused by his routine immunisations the day before. They sent him home. Ten days later, he began fitting again and returned to hospital, where he had a third seizure so violent he had be resuscitated. His parents have since had 30 ambulance rides to hospital with their son and he has suffered over 500 seizures, some lasting up to 14 hours. Each one has damaged his brain a little further.

Luke’s tragic story was told on SBS last night, as part of the documentary Jabbed: Love, Fear and Vaccines.

In the documentary, Sam and Tom explain that they became convinced Luke's immunisations were to blame for his condition. And while it would be easy to conclude that his parents were right and his vaccinations were to blame, the truth is far more complex.

During her search for answers, Sam Jackson came across an article by a woman whose son had Dravet syndrome – a rare and severe form of epilepsy. She describes reading the article as being like ''like looking in the mirror''. The couple sought a gene test that confirmed the diagnosis.


Luke’s vaccination was just one of the many things that can trigger a seizure in someone suffering from Dravet syndrome. Other triggers for Luke include jumping on a trampoline or getting over-heated.

Tragically, Sam and Tom spent six months blaming themselves for having caused his condition by having him vaccinated. It wasn't until they met Melbourne neurologist Ingrid Scheffer, who had studied cases of children who developed severe seizures soon after vaccination, that they realised his seizures were unavoidable. Out of 14  cases, Professor Scheffer found that 11 patients had gene mutations that cause Dravet syndrome, which usually emerges around six months of age and is associated with intellectual disability.

For example, Luke has a friend, Ava Donovan, 9, who also has Dravet syndrome. Her first seizure occurred after a virus when she was five months old – not after being immunized.

Tom insists he and Sam “are still very much pro-vaccine”, however they have chosen not to immunise Luke further because it could trigger another seizure. But they are pleading for other parents to immunise their children, because a fever resulting from catching a disease like measles could kill Luke.

Their heartbreaking story is just one of those revealed in Jabbed

As SBS notes: “Diseases that were largely eradicated forty years ago are returning. Across the world children are getting sick and dying from preventable conditions because nervous parents are skipping their children’s shots. Yet the stories of vaccine reactions are frightening, with cases of people being damaged, even killed, by vaccines. How do we decide whether to vaccinate or not, and what are the real risks? Jabbed, made by 2012 Emmy Award-winning Australian documentary filmmaker Sonya Pemberton, travels the globe to look at the real science behind vaccinations, tracks real epidemics, and investigates the real cost of opting out. “

Watch Jabbed: Love, Fear and Vaccines on SBS On Demand