Andrew Wakefield’s Legacy

March 20, 2011 at 7:58 pm (Anti-Vaccination, Media) (, , , , , , )

Andrew Wakefield and the British media created a baseless scare around the MMR vaccine. They’ve since moved on. Wakefield’s paper has been retracted by the Lancet (and referred to by the BMJ as “fraudulent“), and he has been struck off by the GMC. Wakefield now appears to be promoting a Facebook page collating anecdotes from parents worried that vaccination may have had adverse effects on their children.

The media have moved on too. Some tried to blame everyone except themselves for the MMR scare but then, astonishingly, moved on to scaremongering about other vaccines.

What about the parents who fell for the scare propagated by Wakefield and the media? What about the effects of the scaremongering? Well, in England vaccine coverage dropped and we saw the first deaths from acute measles since 1992.

It’s been reported this week that in Minnesota, there have been six measles cases in a month:

“We had six cases prior to this year, over the past five years,” Lynfield said. “And now we’ve had six cases in a month.”

Half of the cases so far have been in Somali children who were not immunized. Some Somali parents told the Health Department they didn’t vaccinate their kids because they were worried that they would develop autism.

It looks like, as well as the damage caused in this country, Wakefield and the British media may be at least partly responsible for the hospitalisation of four children from Minnesota. Once again we are exporting counterknowledge. Rather depressing, isn’t it?

Edited to add: this has also been covered by leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk.

35 Comments

  1. Oliver Dowding said,

    That looks like half a report.

    Wonder how many vaccinations over these periods delivered reactions, and worse delivered reactions which were long-lasting and even permanent?

    I also wonder how many people reacted to the vaccination, and how often the doctors reported the reactions? Not when my son reacted seriously – doctor would not log the reaction, thus ensuring the safety data are skewed. Sadly the reactions are grossly under-reported.

    Oh, and by the way, in my opinion and that of many others, Wakefield’s reports were not a “baseless scare”.

  2. Cybertiger said,

    More cobblers from the jolly cobbler himself … go cobble yourself, jdc352

  3. Rhys said,

    Oliver,
    Is it possible that’s because it fits in nicely with your limited, closed minded view?
    Cause honestly, it was one trial on twelve kids with a shedload of results changed to fit what Wakefield was being paid to make them say.
    There was no base to the study, unless you count greed.

  4. David McKay said,

    @Oliver

    It’s not half a report, it’s a short, well referenced report.

    It’s harrowing to read all of the stories of children developing autism or, quite separately, having reactions to vaccines. It’s equally distressing to hear of the many children who have contracted measles after they haven’t received a vaccine or they have come into contact with a child who hasn’t.

    These stories, on both sides, are sad, but anecdotal. The scientific evidence, however, the truth as we can best understand it, is currently that there is no link between vaccination and autism. The original report and media response that started this scare was fraudulent.

    Continued vaccination is our best guard against future death and permanent disfigurement by known and understood diseases.

    Continued research into autism and and other conditions wrongfully attributed to vaccination practises is our based chance at understanding them.

    Scaremongering and pseudoscience, or to quote the above blog, “counterknowledge” is not the way forward.

  5. David McKay said,

    Erratum. 5th paragraph: delete second ‘and’; replaced ‘based’ with ‘best’.

    Real science corrects its mistakes…

  6. jdc325 said,

    @Oliver

    The MMR scare arose from a single, seriously flawed, paper. That paper has now been fully retracted [PDF], with the Lancet editors stating that several elements were incorrect, with two claims having been proved to be false.

    Damningly, Brian Deer revealed that several of the children whose cases formed the basis of the Lancet paper that was the beginning of the MMR scare had symptoms reported by Wakefield et al as occurring after administration of the MMR vaccine, but medical records which suggested otherwise.

    Child One, Child Two, Child Six, Child Seven, and Child Eight all had documented issues such as symptoms of autism, fits, and brain injury prior to vaccination. The descriptions in the Lancet paper simply did not match their medical records. It beggars belief that children who were reported as having symptoms of autism or brain injury prior to vaccination formed the basis of a vaccine scare.

    Between the beginning of the scare and the full retraction of the paper, there was plenty of research conducted into MMR and autism (much of which, sadly, was not reported on by the media). There was also a partial retraction of the Lancet paper.

    This PDF presented a rough overview of the evidence on MMR, inflammatory bowel disease, and autism: here (note that 25 studies do not support Wakefield’s hypothesis and of the three that do, one was his own Lancet paper – a paper that had been partially retracted in 2004).

    You might also find this PDF enlightening: Pink Book measles chapter.

  7. parent said,

    Jdc325
    Some somalis were blaming vaccines for the 1 in 25 rate of autism rate in Minnesota in 2008. but don’t let that stop you blaming Wakefield for there lake of trust…

    http://www.ethiopianreview.com/content/3711

    Somali immigrant Farah Osman told WCCO that she blames immunizations for her son’s autism. “In rural Somalia, there’s no immunizations.” Harrington told the MinnPost, “They’re given more [vaccines] then we get, and sometimes they’re doubled up. Then their children are given immunizations. In Somalia, their generations have not received these immunizations, and then suddenly they’re getting just a wallop of them in the moms and then in the babies.”

    next your going to blame Wakefield for the rain next tuesday

  8. Oliver Dowding said,

    @parent………..quite! Why? I suspect it’s somewhat uncomfortable for the authorities to investigate.

    @David et al. Maybe you have a rational explanation for this? If so, I’m sure the authorities in Minneapolis, struggling to understand why Somalis should be suffering some extremely, would be delighted to hear from you. With regard vaccines in general, this report highly informative. http://bit.ly/dMlcwV

    In the report it says that “the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has confirmed that almost £2m has been paid out in compensation to 25 people in Northern Ireland severely disabled by vaccines since 1979.” No mention is made of reactions that come in somewhere below “severely” disabled. Or those that have occurred beyond the Northern Ireland boundaries.

    I note that today, on a separate subject, but with a similar theme, news recently released that Bayer has been ordered to pay out to an appellant US$136.8 million, after court action over the 2006 contamination of US long grain rice stocks with Bayer’s unapproved experimental GM rice LL601. Whilst this may not on the face of it seemed to be relevant to the case which JDC began this with, it seems to me very relevant. As the court and others noted, the authorities weren’t exactly hasty in dealing with this contamination, which spread from the original source to over 24 countries, and a great many of the records they would have benefited from having one not available. All very disconcerting.

  9. Chris said,

    Wakefield has recently been to Minnesota, courting the Somali immigrants who happen to caught with this measles outbreak. He talked at a Somali restaurant:

    In early December of last year, Wakefield addressed Minnesota’s Somali community on its concerns over autism. He told about a hundred people gathered at a Somali-owned restaurant that they could help find the cause of autism.

    By the way, the outbreak is up to nine, five are in the hospital</a?. Four are not old enough to be vaccinated, four have never been vaccinated and the remainder came from out of the country.

  10. jdc325 said,

    @Chris – thank you for the update and for the link & quote re Wakefield addressing the Somali community.

  11. jdc325 said,

    @Oliver,

    You claimed that Wakefield and the Media’s MMR scare was not baseless. Perhaps you’d care to read the links I provided and comment? Do you still believe what you wrote on March 20th?

  12. Oliver Dowding said,

    Yes, I do. I appreciate that different people have different perspectives and takes on this. I also understand the concern of those who feel that reduced vaccination levels are exposing some people to risks from diseases that we’ve latterly come to think of as consigned to the history books. Unfortunately, for as many diseases as may have been in some way reduced, others have risen to a disappointing level of prominence. Autism is perhaps the most obvious of these.

    My comments are made from a position taken as an interested layman. From one who is listening to many accounts from afflicted families. Such as http://bit.ly/hlLBMr

    I did read all your links. By and large I had read all those stories a while ago, and have followed the debate, as I noted in my original comments, mentioning what I see as under reporting, non-reporting, etc, from which I suggest that the statistics on the subject probably ought to be taken with a pinch of salt. Many people do see them sceptically. I’ve also found this to be an interesting read http://bit.ly/AP0TL although I don’t expect you to agree with the author or his comments.

    I wish it were easier to accept that corporate scientists were only working for the good of the citizenry. I find that difficult.

    So, in my limited way (being not a scientist nor one with oodles of time) this is how I see things.

  13. parent said,

    so JDC
    why have the somalis been concerned about vaccination since 2008,
    has Wakefield been in a time machine???

  14. jdc325 said,

    @Parent

    So… “the Somalis have been concerned about vaccination since 2008” have they? And this means it can’t be anything to do with Wakefield?

    MMR Research Timeline

    February 1998: Wakefield discusses his now retracted and apparently fraudulent paper at a press conference.

    To find out more about the media coverage of the MMR scare, click here. (“2002 was in fact the peak of the media coverage, by a very long margin.”)

  15. jdc325 said,

    @Oliver

    I also understand the concern of those who feel that reduced vaccination levels are exposing some people to risks from diseases that we’ve latterly come to think of as consigned to the history books.

    I think you are correct that some people have come to think of these diseases as having been “consigned to the history books”. This is due to the success of vaccination programs. Programs that Wakefield and the media (and, apparently, you) cast unwarranted doubt upon.

    Unfortunately, for as many diseases as may have been in some way reduced, others have risen to a disappointing level of prominence. Autism is perhaps the most obvious of these.

    Shattuck: link

    The growing administrative prevalence of autism from 1994 to 2003 was associated with corresponding declines in the usage of other diagnostic categories.

    Baird et al: link

    Studies investigating this phenomenon have concluded that several factors account for the increase–for example, changing conceptualisation to a spectrum rather than a core categorical condition; changes in diagnostic methods; and the inclusion of children with disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, or tuberous sclerosis as also having autistic spectrum disorder.

  16. Oliver Dowding said,

    I can see what you are saying, but its falling on unsympathetic ears here.

    This may be a good read to you. http://bit.ly/cDjuxy

    I think it’s fair to say that we’re into the old statistics game.

  17. jdc325 said,

    @Oliver

    I’ve taken a look at the piece by Mercola that you linked to. He points out that “the diseases included on the vaccination schedule are actually stable in the 21st century United States” and, like you, ignores that this stability is due to the vaccination schedule. He also, like you, refers to the prevalence of autism. He doesn’t appear to address the issue of diagnostic substitution – and neither have you.

    What he does do is talk about ethical questions and hidden motivations. Ironic, given that you are apparently linking to him in order to support your pro-Wakefield stance. Remind me – didn’t Wakefield have a spot of bother over ethics? Oh, and wasn’t there something about an undeclared conflict of interest?

    Do please feel free to address the issue of diagnostic substitution or post reliable evidence that actually links vaccines to autism (oh, and feel free to tell me what you think about Wakefield’s ethics, his undeclared conflict of interest, and the fact that several of the children whose cases formed the basis of the Lancet paper that was the beginning of the MMR scare had symptoms reported by Wakefield et al as occurring after administration of the MMR vaccine, but medical records which suggested otherwise).

  18. Chris said,

    Oh, good grief: Anti-vaccine doctor meets with Somalis.

    Oh, “parent”, despite what you think of people from Africa who immigrate to the USA and elsewhere, they are literate and do read news papers. It doesn’t help that David Kirby has been involved (check the date of that article). I believe Kirby and Wakefield have common friends and benefactors.

  19. Oliver Dowding said,

    @JDC
    I note your comments. I think you’ll understand if I say that I’m not in a position to comment on diagnostic substitution. That’s not a convenient get out. Just not my speciality. Interesting all the same. I won’t comment further.

    I note you refer to “something about an undeclared conflict of interest” with regard to Wakefield. You speak as though the vaccine industry would never allow such a thing to happen within their portal. I noted this only today, http://bit.ly/iid81n I noted the comments by William Schaffner and was not surprised.

    You asked me to comment on Wakefield’s conflict of interest. There way well have been some, and I’m sure it would have been wiser declared at the right time. However, let’s face it, the whole “science industry”, and commercial concerns riding with it, is riddled with such conflicts of interest. Just the same as some aspects of the licensing system for drugs et al. I’m not sure whether you’ve seen this report, but what a disgrace. http://bit.ly/g2uoYv

    I can only hope that it doesn’t happen over here. I only have limited experience, but I know that when we were using leptospirosis vaccines for our dairy cattle, we were paying over 10 times the price that the Kiwi farmer was paying. Yet we were not allowed to import it.

    As I’m sure you would agree, your a healthy sceptic of all things homoeopathic etc. In the same vein, I’m healthy sceptic of many things pharmaceutical. It’s likely therefore that we will not come to agree on certain things, but the debate is interesting, and the alternative viewpoint to one’s own does make for a more rounded understanding of the subject.

  20. Chris said,

    Oliver:

    1: Your first link is to a website with a dubious reputation. Many of its articles have been sources of amusement for several blog postings.

    2: Yes, I heard about that bit of price gouging in the mainstream media. Just because a pharmaceutical company is price gouging does not mean Wakefield is innocent or worthy of any further consideration. Other than noting with horror that he is perpetuating in Minnesota.

  21. Chris said,

    Rats, screwed up the link. Oh, well. You get the point. Natural News is a candidate for Scopie’s Law. Plus I love how Michael Marsh of the Merseyside Skeptics says “Health Ranger” on many podcasts.

  22. Oliver Dowding said,

    Chris, we all get our amusement from different places, perhaps fortunately. I think I know how Mike Adams might view people like Michael Marsh. So there you have it, part of the diversity of assessments and opinions that makes up this world of ours.

  23. jdc325 said,

    “I think you’ll understand if I say that I’m not in a position to comment on diagnostic substitution. That’s not a convenient get out. Just not my speciality. Interesting all the same. I won’t comment further.”
    From where I’m standing, it doesn’t look like you’re in a position to comment on the efficacy and safety of vaccines. Just saying.

    “I note you refer to “something about an undeclared conflict of interest” with regard to Wakefield. You speak as though the vaccine industry would never allow such a thing to happen within their portal.”
    Oliver – you’re defending a man who had an undeclared conflict of interest. I’m afraid Tu quoque won’t get you very far…

    “You asked me to comment on Wakefield’s conflict of interest. There way well have been some, and I’m sure it would have been wiser declared at the right time.”
    There’s no “may well have been” about it – there was an undeclared conflict of interest, and you don’t appear to appreciate its importance.

    “the whole “science industry”, and commercial concerns riding with it, is riddled with such conflicts of interest”
    Yes, there are sometimes conflicts of interest in research. That’s why journals require researchers to declare them. Something Wakefield failed to do.

    “I’m healthy sceptic of many things pharmaceutical.”
    I disagree. I’m afraid you appear to be cynical about the pharmaceutical industry rather than sceptical. And when it comes to, say, homeopathy (or the writings of Mercola), you seem to have no scepticism whatsoever.

    “It’s likely therefore that we will not come to agree on certain things, but the debate is interesting”
    Finally, something we agree on! I’ve found this exchange quite interesting and would be happy to continue it (even if there is no prospect of my persuading you of the efficacy and safety of the recommended vaccine schedule).

  24. Oliver Dowding said,

    You are right! You aren’t likely to turn me. I too find it interesting.

    However, I totally disagree that I am cynical. I note that it is defined thus “believing that people are motivated by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.” I most certainly not within the first category, and I don’t believe I’m in the second. I may have suspicions about some people’s integrity or sincerity, in the same way that many people are heard to opine “they would say that, wouldn’t they”.

    I note that to be sceptical, the options are
    1. not convinced that something is true; doubtful
    2. tending to mistrust people, ideas, etc., in general
    3. (Philosophy) of or relating to sceptics; sceptic, sceptically archaic and US, skeptically adv

    I quite agree that there are plenty of times when the first to might well apply. But then aren’t we all sceptical of something? In the same way that your sceptical of those who may claim efficacy for homoeopathy.

    Without going through your points one by one, and quite agreeing that I’m not in a qualified position to comment on the efficacy of vaccines, I can only say that I do then rely on others who do it and with whom when I read their pieces I agree. Surely this is no different than politics, two sides of the House of Commons, often totally diverging opinions, all about the same problem, and they remain divided, but we hope that in some way a compromise decision is reached to resolve the problems.

    Hence, when I come across an article such as this, I find plenty within it to reassure me that the view that I hold is not without foundation. http://bit.ly/c5n8pl

    Despite reading this, I wouldn’t want anyone to run away with the viewpoint that I therefore dismiss everything from within the conventional arsenal. I’ve said it often enough before, I don’t. The trouble is that I am like many people, and am well aware of the commercial and political pressures upon people who are making decisions about products and health policy. These people often have short-term positions, be they commercial or political. I’d like to think that nobody is making a decision for anything other than “the right reasons”. However, there are plenty of cases where the commercial appears to have delivered something undesirable, often resolved by the courts, or perhaps through out-of-court settlements, which of course then are much less likely to find themselves within the statistical realm.

    This probably will be finally (!)……………………………..

  25. Oliver Dowding said,

    I should have pointed out, within the article I was particularly struck by the experience in Japan when they stopped vaccinating until the child was 2 years old. Only for a short period, unfortunately.

    And then there was this, which is perhaps even more telling.
    .
    We find the same observation in a Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology study. Of 11,531 children studied at age seven, here are the results: vaccinated at two months, 13.8% are asthmatic, vaccinated between two and four months, 10.3%, vaccinated after four months, 5.9 %. Again, how well would these kids have done had they not been vaccinated at all?

  26. jdc325 said,

    Without going through your points one by one, and quite agreeing that I’m not in a qualified position to comment on the efficacy of vaccines, I can only say that I do then rely on others who do it and with whom when I read their pieces I agree. Surely this is no different than politics, two sides of the House of Commons, often totally diverging opinions, all about the same problem, and they remain divided, but we hope that in some way a compromise decision is reached to resolve the problems.

    No – when it comes to the vaccination program there is evidence to support its safety and efficacy. Whether vaccination is safe and effective isn’t a matter of subjective opinion, it is a matter of the weight of the evidence.

    PS: when you say you “rely on others”, I take it you mean that you rely on the unscientific conspiracy-mongering nonsense written by people like Mercola? I’d love to hear why you think Mercola is reliable.

  27. Chris said,

    Oliver Dowding:

    I should have pointed out, within the article I was particularly struck by the experience in Japan when they stopped vaccinating until the child was 2 years old. Only for a short period, unfortunately.

    That was because babies started to die from pertussis, they just could not blame it on a vaccine the children did not receive.. One big reason why Natural News is not a good source of information is that they tend to lie. From the paper Acellular pertussis vaccines in Japan: past, present and future:

    An antivaccine movement developed in Japan as a consequence of increasing numbers of adverse reactions to whole-cell pertussis vaccines in the mid-1970s. After two infants died within 24 h of the vaccination from 1974 to 1975, the Japanese government temporarily suspended vaccinations. Subsequently, the public and the government witnessed the re-emergence of whooping cough, with 41 deaths in 1979.

    And from Experience with Diphtheria Toxoid–Tetanus Toxoid–Acellular Pertussis Vaccine in Japan:

    After temporary suspension of pertussis vaccination for 2 months in 1975 to consider a countermeasure for this situation, the initial vaccination age for DTwP was raised from 3 months to 2 years. However, acceptance of DTwP decreased further, down to almost 10% in 1976 [2]. Consequently, the number of pertussis cases increased dramatically: The morbidity rate per 100,000 population increased from 0.4 in 1974 to 11.3 in 1979 [3].

    The last part means that the deaths from pertussis increased 28 times more in 1979 in five years (11.3/.4 = 28.25). Did that article explain that not so minor detail?

  28. Chris said,

    Correction, morbidity is number of cases not deaths. I misread it as mortality. Unlike some people I am willing to admit I made a mistake.

  29. nobby68 said,

    “We find the same observation in a Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology study. Of 11,531 children studied at age seven, here are the results: vaccinated at two months, 13.8% are asthmatic, vaccinated between two and four months, 10.3%, vaccinated after four months, 5.9 %. Again, how well would these kids have done had they not been vaccinated at all?”

    even more telling you say…but about what exactly?

    it took me 5 minutes to find the paper:

    http://www.14studies.org/pdf/mcdonald.pdf and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18207561

    it took me less that minute thanks to google cache search to find:
    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:O0n6Cb1HuYQJ:scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/11/has_desiree_jennings_vaers_report_been_f.php+Delay+in+diphtheria,+pertussis,+tetanus+vaccination+is+associated+with+a+reduced+risk+of+childhood+asthma.&cd=30&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk&source=www.google.co.uk

    and scroll down to comment 71…..a few more minutes to read up to comment 77 to find that it contained from the original poster “Thankyou. I do realize that with respect to the Manitoba study they were looking at an old dtp vaccine compared to what is out now.”

    is it really that hard to check something?

  30. Chris said,

    nobby68, thanks for that blast from the past. A definite reminder of the type of argument I’ve seen too often, especially hte cherry picking.

  31. jdc325 said,

    @nobby68, Chris

    I made the mistake of scrolling down as far as comment 81: “Yes, I stand by my point that I feel we have gone too far with taking away natural illness even though some kids may die…”

    I have no words.

  32. nobby68 said,

    your welcome chris and great work. as soon i posted it your messages came up and i put two and two together.

    i never got that far jdc325…no words indeed.

  33. jdc325 said,

    A rather depressing report of a Somali community forum: “little sign that anyone’s minds had been changed.”

  34. Michelle said,

    Its a shame that one Dr. can screw up all the breakthroughs we’ve had in the medical world.

  35. ronnie74 said,

    Andrew Wakefield needs to spend some time behind bars to think about the lives of innocent families he’s ruined. Maybe a public flogging would be in order as well. ;)

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