For some reason, Newsweek decided to ask the discredited researcher Andrew Wakefield for his views in the wake of a measles outbreak. To be fair, they’ve done their research and they do present the important facts (for example the retraction of his fraudulent paper). But: we all know what he’ll say (the same as he did last time there was an outbreak) and we all know how much weight we can give the word of a man who’s chiefly known for his misconduct.
He’ll say it wasn’t him, it was all the government’s fault. That there was nothing wrong with his paper – that it never even claimed MMR caused autism. And that he’s still right about everything, no matter the evidence to the contrary.
And that’s what he tells Newsweek.
Wakefield dismisses the notion that he bears any responsibility for the current outbreak, despite decreasing vaccination rates in some parts of the country and the perpetuated fear of an MMR-autism link: “The people who put the blame on me are really just displacing their inadequacy on others.”
He points out that his now infamous study never asserted a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism.
The paper might not have asserted a causal relationship, but I would guess that more people read and watched the interviews Wakefield gave to the mainstream media than read the paper itself. Wakefield seems to be focusing on the text of the paper hoping that we’ll forget that it was him rather than the paper that was quoted by the press, that we’ll somehow miss the seventeen years of scaremongering while we concentrate on the one occasion when Wakefield didn’t wrongly claim a causal link. Newsweek, thankfully, were able to remember the small point that Wakefield gave a press conference at the time where he spoke out against the MMR vaccine. He was scaremongering then and he’s still scaremongering now, in spite of all the research* that has consistently failed to find an association between MMR vaccination and autism. But it’s not his fault. It’s the government’s fault for not offering the inferior option of single measles vaccines.
Bizarrely, Wakefield also apparently makes the demonstrably untrue claim that he never had a vaccine patent:
Today, Wakefield claims that patent was not for a vaccine. “What we had was a naturally occurring substance that occurs in breast milk. It’s not a drug or vaccine, it’s a nutritional supplement, but it boosts the immune system.”
Assuming the lazy reader could be bothered to click the link that Newsweek provided in the paragraph preceding this, they would have found that Brian Deer has helpfully highlighted the relevant sections of the patent filing receipt: http://briandeer.com/wakefield/vaccine-patent.htm. I think that Newsweek should have made it absolutely clear in the text of their article that the documents on Deer’s site show that Wakefield’s claim is untrue.
Still, this at least shows us that Wakefield hasn’t changed. He wasn’t credible ten years ago, and he isn’t now. In fact, his claims are childishly easy to disprove. His views should be irrelevant to any discussion of measles and vaccination, as we simply can’t trust them to reflect reality.
*Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses gives an overview of the research. Papers from the UK, Finland, Denmark, Canada and the USA described ecological, case-control, retrospective cohort, and prospective cohort studies. Different researchers in different countries used different methods to search for a link between MMR and autism. They didn’t find one. There’s also the Institute of Medicine’s report from 2011: IOM (which is, handily, free to browse online and searchable); you can see what their conclusion was (“rejection of a causal relationship between MMR vaccine and autism”), what studies they relied upon, and what limitations they identified in those studies.