The Daily Mail has published a new article on the MMR vaccine. The headline and first paragraph tell us that it has been claimed that “a nurse gave a toddler the MMR jab even though his mother refused her consent in order to meet government immunisation targets”.**
I will comment only briefly on the main thrust of the article. It may well be true that a medical intervention was given without informed consent being obtained. It may also be true that this was done in order to meet government targets.** Then again, it could have been an error rather than a deliberate act. I think it’s often very difficult to be certain of whether something was deliberate or accidental. I also think it’s dangerous to assume you can accurately divine the motivation behind an act.
The Mail seem, on the face of it, to be quite certain that the vaccine was deliberately given without consent in order to meet targets. But in the headline, single quotation marks are used. And in the first paragraph, the Mail writes that “it has been claimed” that this is the case. No direct quote is given, but the Mail later allege that Ms Siddique included the claim in her official complaints. This is a claim that could be very difficult to substantiate (perhaps impossible) and I would question the wisdom of reporting such a claim in a newspaper article. Then again, it does give the story a bit more bite and the Mail might think it worth taking the risk of publishing something that could turn out to be untrue or unprovable in order to make a story slightly more sensational.
Onto autism. The Mail seem to go out of their way to avoid actually mentioning the research that shows no association between MMR and autism (the Mail seem to think that it’s not the evidence that suggests MMR is safe, it’s the government). They also (of course) studiously avoid mentioning their part in the MMR hoax. Here’s what they write:
The MMR jab sparked controversy over an alleged link to autism and bowel disease.
Although research backing the claims was found to be flawed and the government ruled it is safe for children, some concerned parents are still opting to pay for separate measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations.
Here’s what I think the Mail should have written:
Along with other media outlets and the now-discredited Andrew Wakefield, we sparked controversy over the MMR jab and an alleged link to autism and bowel disease. We were wrong to do this and we apologise for the harm our actions may have caused. We told our readers about unpublished work from Arthur Krigsman but failed to mention the published, peer-reviewed research that showed no link between MMR and autism.
Although the research that first made the claims was found to be flawed and the government ruled it is safe for children (because this is what the best available research shows), some concerned parents are still opting to pay for separate measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations. There is no basis for their concerns, and opting to pay for separate jabs is not only unnecessarily expensive – it also leaves children unprotected* from serious diseases (if not measles, then mumps or rubella) if the vaccinations are spaced out.
Alternatively, they could have chosen not to bring up (yet again) the spurious link that they, and others, filled so many column inches promoting.
*Not only will they be unprotected, there is also a risk that if they catch one of these diseases they might infect someone who is vulnerable and has been unable to receive a vaccine (being too young, or immune-compromised for example) or who is unvaccinated for some other reason. I wrote about Richard Halvorsen’s alternative vaccine schedule as part of a series of posts on his book The Truth About Vaccines.
Shattuck and Baird et al have published papers describing the role of diagnostic substitution and other factors in the increase in ASD diagnoses. Gerber and Offit’s paper Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses discusses the evidence that showed no association between MMR and autism.
**Update, 12th May 2011
I checked with the Department of Health and have today received an email clarifying the point about “government immunisation targets”:
The Department does not set targets for MMR vaccination. However, primary care trusts (PCTs) negotiate local plans, which include MMR vaccine uptake rates, with their strategic health authorities (SHAs). PCTs generally report on how they are performing against these plans on their own websites. You can find your local PCT’s web site by entering your postcode into the following link:
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that at least 95 per cent of children should receive a first dose of MMR vaccine by two years of age.
Update, 12th June 2011 20:06
The Mail get some lovely comments from their readers. Here’s one which was popular with quite a few of the visitors to their website:
Nearly a hundred people visiting the Mail’s website chose to vote up this comment. A comment submitted by someone who doesn’t think that anyone who is ‘weak’ enough to be killed by infectious diseases should survive. They want to stop vaccination, and thereby reduce the population of the world through preventable deaths from infectious disease. Nice.