In my previous post about measles imported to Israel from the UK, I intimated we had a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield to thank for our current predicament. This is your cue to ask, in your best Emily Litella voice, “What’s all this I hear about Andrew Wakeup?”…well, you’ve come to the right place.
Andrew Wakefield is a British-born, Canadian-trained gastroenterological surgeon who in 1998, published a study, which described a supposedly new gastrointestinal syndrome in twelve children with developmental disorders, eight of whom allegedly developed their neurological symptoms after their routine MMR shots. While the study merely implied a connection between the MMR vaccine and the later development of autism, Wakefield (who was the lead researcher) stated in a video press conference that he would be wary of the combined MMR vaccine and that it should be suspended in favor of giving children 3 separate ones. Unfortunately, this statement, along with the ever-sensationalistic media headlines, provoked a major health scare about the safety of the MMR vaccine. The frightened public’s response was not to demand that babies receive 3 separate vaccines, but to shun the vaccine altogether. Not surprisingly, MMR vaccine uptake fell to a record low of 82% by 2003 from a previous 92%, triggering outbreaks of measles, the most recent one in July-August 2007 in East London.
Meanwhile, an investigative reporter from the Sunday Times, Brian Deer, found that most the 8 children who participated in the 1998 study and whose onset of neurological symptoms were attributed to the MMR vaccine were not ‘randomly selected’ for Wakefield’s study as claimed, but were clients of a legal aid board representing parents of autistic children, who had commissioned Wakefield the year before to find a link between the vaccine and the children’s condition. In addition to 55,000 pounds paid to the hospital he worked in (the Royal Free Hospital), Wakefield had personally been paid huge sums of money to make this association, but neglected to disclose to the editors of the Lancet what amounted to a huge conflict of interest.
Following this disclosure and after seeing the public health consequences of their statements, 10 of the 12 coauthors of the original 1998 study retracted their original interpretation of the study’s results. The editor of the Lancet, Richard Horton, also stated that publication of the study would not have taken place the way it did, had this connection been known prior to publication. The British General Medical Council is also investigating Wakefield and two of his co-authors on the Lancet paper for professional misconduct. Among other charges, Wakefield is accused of paying children attending his son’s birthday party in 1999 for blood samples.
Wakefield left employment at the Royal Free Hospital in 2001, and currently is the director of Thoughtful House, a treatment center for autistic children in Austin, Texas. He continues to push the view that vaccines cause autism, and claims he was a victim of a witch hunt – as claim his many groupies (mostly parents of autistic children who’ve been convinced that their children are “vaccine damaged”).
In the next installment, we’ll be looking at whether there is any scientific merit to the claim the the MMR vaccine causes autism, including a whole lot of resources with which to combat the lies spread by the anti-vaccine crowd on this subject.
Filed under: Vaccines |