Andrew Wakefield and the Mmr Autism Fraud
ANDREW WAKEFIELD AND THE MMR AUTISM FRAUD In February 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist, published a research paper in which he linked autism and bowel disease to the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine – creating a public health crisis in England and raising questions about vaccine safety in North America. Additional studies have since shown that the data presented was fraudulent, and after ten years of controversy and investigation, Dr. Wakefield was discredited, his licence revoked and his research discarded.
The damage, however, had been done – vaccination rates in the industrialized world are down to such an extent that it has brought back diseases that have not been seen for decades. The article in the British medical journal The Lancet claimed that the three-in-one measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) was causing inflammatory bowel syndrome and brain damage in children. The five-page paper, which was backed by a press conference, provoked substantial media interest. Dr.
Wakefield reported on twelve cases of children with what he called “regressive autism”, who had been admitted to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead (London) between July 1996 and February 1997, all within 14 days of receiving the MMR vaccine. These previously healthy children, the study claimed, suddenly lost basic language and communication skills. Wakefield theorized that the three vaccines, given together, can alter a child’s immune system, allowing the measles virus in the vaccine to infiltrate the intestines; certain proteins, escaping from the intestines, could then reach and harm neurons in the brain. It’s a moral issue for me,” he announced at the 1998 press conference, where he advocated breaking up the triple MMR vaccine into single measles, mumps and rubella shots, to be given at yearly intervals. “I can’t support the continued use of these three vaccines, given in combination,” he said, “until this issue has been resolved. ” As the doctor campaigned, vaccination rates in the UK and Ireland dropped sharply. Wakefield supporters even involved Prime Minister Tony Blair by suggesting that his youngest son was not vaccinated with MMR.
Although at the time, Mr. Blair refused to discuss the issue for privacy reasons, he did say that, “For the record, Cherie and I both entirely support the advice, as we have consistently said. It is not true that we believe the MMR vaccine to be dangerous or believe that it is better to have separate injections, or believe that it is linked to autism. On the contrary, the vaccine, which is used throughout the world, helps prevent the spread of diseases that can, if contracted, cause very serious damage to children. It was later confirmed that Leo Blair had been inoculated. In November 2000, Wakefield appeared on CBS’ 60 Minutes, linking the “epidemic of autism” to the MMR vaccine. This set off a spiral of theories that all vaccines are suspect: either due to their content, or because children receive too many of them at the same time. The US movement attracted celebrities such as actress Jenny McCarthy, who blamed MMR for her own son’s autism. “In 1983 the shot schedule was ten. That’s when autism was one in 10,000. Now there’s 36, and autism is one in 150,” she argued. All arrows point to one direction. ” Although the number of children diagnosed with autism has increased dramatically over the last twenty years, it is difficult to say if this is due to improved diagnostic practices or an actual increased prevalence of the disease. Several major studies, however, have ruled out a link with vaccines: •The October 2004 edition of Vaccine published a meta review that looked at 120 studies to assess potential side effects of the MMR vaccine. The authors concluded that a connection between MMR and autism is “unlikely”. A 2005 study compared autism rates in Japan before and after 1993, when the triple MMR vaccine was broken into three separate vaccines that are administered at different times. It was found that autism is still on the rise. •In October 2005, the Cochrance Library published a review of 31 scientific studies, none of which found a link between MMR and either autism or bowel disease. Similarly, a 2007 review of independent studies performed after Wakefield’s publication in the Lancet demonstrated overwhelming evidence against the hypothesis of associating MMR with autism.
In addition to the overwhelming scientific evidence contradicting Wakefield’s claims, British journalist Brian Deer discovered that in fact, the research had been funded to create evidence against the MMR vaccine. Wakefield had concealed, misreported and changed information about the children in his study. It turned out that two years before embarking on his “research”, he had been hired by a lawyer who planned to make big money from several class action lawsuits against companies manufacturing the triple MMR vaccine. “I have mentioned to you before hat the prime objective is to produce unassailable evidence in court so as to convince a court that these vaccines are dangerous,” the lawyer reminded the doctor in a confidential letter, six months before the Lancet report. The Sunday Times investigation also discovered that in June 1997, Wakefield had filed for a patent on a single measles vaccine – for the success of which he needed to discredit the triple MMR. After the fraud came to light in February 2004, the Lancet retracted the conclusion section of the report (they would eventually retract the whole article in 2010).
From July 2007 to May 2010, the General Medical Council conducted the longest ever professional misconduct hearing. Eventually, they revoked Dr. Wakefield’s medical licence, citing medical, scientific and ethical misconduct. So why do parents still believe in Wakefield’s hypothesis? Probably because anecdotes are more satisfying than scientific methodology, and the media are very good at telling the bad story and very bad at telling the real story. In the UK and Ireland, fueled by sensationalist media coverage, MMR uptake levels between 1998 and 2008 dropped from 92 percent to 73 percent. 5 percent vaccine uptake levels are required for herd immunity (i. e. , the point when diseases cannot spread in a population). In 2008, measles was declared endemic again in the UK. There were a total of 1,348 cases that year, up 36 per cent from the previous year and up a staggering 2,400 per cent from 1998, when there were just 56 cases. In 2006 a 13-year-old boy became the first person to die of measles in Britain since 1992, with a second child dying in 2008. In the United States, the herd immunity is crumbling as states make it easier for parents to opt out of the vaccinations that are usually required to enroll in school.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics (2010) by researchers from the University of Michigan showed that 12 percent of parents have refused at least one recommended vaccine for their children. As a result, diseases such as whooping cough and measles are making a comeback. In 2010, 9,500 cases of whooping cough were reported in California, the most in 65 years. Ten patients died, all of them infants too young to be vaccinated. And even though measles was declared eliminated in the US in 2000, 2011 saw the highest number of measles cases in 15 years. None of these cases resulted in death, but one out of three people had to be hospitalized.
This then is Andrew Wakefield’s legacy – an elaborate hoax for financial gain that has set back the medical clock 100 years for millions of children whose parents refuse to accept overwhelming and sound scientific evidence and would rather expose them to the very real dangers of infectious disease. Another casualty, ironically, is autism itself. Significant time, energy and financial resources were wasted that could have been spent on research and developing new treatments. Mr. Wakefield has taken up residence in an affluent suburb of Austin, Texas. Although not allowed to practice medicine, he still lectures to an adoring audience. To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one,” according to J. B. Handley of Generation Rescue. The WHO estimates that 380 people die of measles every day. ? SOURCES: Ahmed, Kamal. “Blair Baby ‘Has Had’ MMR Jab. ” The Guardian 23 December 2001. Asaithambi, Rathi. “Time to Get Tough on Vaccine Refusal. ” Baltimore Sun 11 April 2012. Chivers, Tom. “MMR – Autism Scare: So, Farewell Then, Dr Andrew Wakefield. ” The Telegraph 24 May 2010. Deer, Brian. “MMR: The Truth behind the Crisis. ” The Sunday Times 14 November 2004. Deer, Brian. Revealed: MMR Research Scandal. ” The Sunday Times 22 February 2004. DeStefano, F. “Vaccines and Autism: Evidence Does Not Support a Causal Association. ” Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics December 2007: 756-759. Dominus, Susan. “The Crash and Burn of an Autism Guru. ” The New York Times 20 April 2011. Freeper, Berlin. “The Autism Vaccine Hoax. ” The Wall Street Journal 8 January 2011. Mascarelli, Amanda. “Vaccine Opt-Outs Causing Breaks in ‘Herd Immunity’. ” Los Angeles Times 5 August 2011. Sifferlin, Alexandria. “Measles: 2011 Was the Worst in the U. S. in 15 Years. ” Time 19 April 2012.