Field of Science

Wakefield's claims about the MMR vaccine ruled "dishonest and irresponsible"

It's about time.

It took the General Medical Council (in the UK) nearly three years, but they finally issued a ruling about Andrew Wakefield's 1998 study that claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. They ruled that he had acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" in his research, and further that he didn't have the qualifications to be carrying out some of the experiments on children that he subjected them to. These experiments included colonoscopies and lumbar punctures, potentially dangerous and painful procedures. They also ruled that he behaved unethically when he paid the children £5 for their blood samples at his son's birthday party. (No, I'm not making this up.) He also filed for a patent on a "safer" vaccine that he was hoping to sell after he discredited the MMR vaccine. The GMC found all these behaviors amounted to "serious professional misconduct."

I've been writing about Wakefield's fraudulent for several years now, including posts last month, April 2009, April 2008, March 2008, and earlier. Many other scientists have written about him too, revealing that he was paid large sums of money by a lawyers' group for his research (which he failed to reveal to his collaborators or to the Lancet, where he published his work - another ethics breach pointed out by the MRC).

What's so awful about Wakefield's behavior is that it has directly contributed to a decline in vaccination rates, first in the UK and then in the US and elsewhere. A rise in measles cases - including a number of fatalities - can be directly attributed to this decline, as the BBC pointed out and illustrated with this figure:But it's not just measles: the anti-vaccine hysteria that Wakefield has encouraged over the years - and he's still at it - has also resulted in declining rates of vaccination for other childhood diseases, as I explained in my December 2009 post.

Meanwhile, scientists have conducted dozens of studies involving over one million people, searching for a link between vaccines and autism. No such link was found, because it doesn't exist. The Institute of Medicine conducted 8 studies and concluded after exhaustive research that vaccines had no link to autism. Despite this, Wakefield remains defiant and continues to claim that vaccines cause autism, despite the thorough discrediting of his 1998 study, which only involved 12 hand-picked children.

How did he respond today? He's still defiant: in an interview outside the hearing room, he said the charges were "unfounded and unjust" and then he proceeded to thank "the parents" who have supported him. And they have! As reported in The Times of London, he now pays himself a salary of $270,000 from his nonprofit corporation, Thoughtful House, which is supported mostly by donations. He lives in a wealthy suburb of Austin, Texas. And over at his TH website, he's posted a statement that repeats his claims that this is unfair, and that he is "dedicated to the recovery of these children." The statement goes on to warn about the possible link between MMR vaccines and autism. Wakefield really has no shame.

So finally the GMC did the right thing. But they acted far too late to prevent the damage caused by Wakefield's fraudulent study. I can only hope that their official action now will change the minds of at least a few of Wakefield's misguided supporters.

References (because I often get asked)
There are many studies showing that vaccines are safe and that there is no link to autism. The first one below is one of the largest, involving over 537,000 children (compared to just 12 in Wakefield's original study):
K. Madsen et al., A Population-Based Study of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccination and Autism, New England Journal of Medicine, 347:1477-1482 (November 7, 2002).
In this study, the vaccinated children were slightly LESS LIKELY to become autistic. The authors' own conclusion is "This study provides strong evidence against the hypothesis that MMR vaccination causes autism."

Farrington CP, Miller E, Taylor B (2001) MMR and autism: further evidence against a causal association. Vaccine 19: 3632–3635.

Fombonne E, Chakrabarti S (2001) No evidence for a new variant of measles-mumps-rubella-induced autism. Pediatrics 108: E58.

Fombonne et al (2006) Pervasive developmental disorders in Montreal, Quebec, Canada: prevalence and links with immunizations. Pediatrics 118: e139–150.

Honda H, Shimizu Y, Rutter M (2005) No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 46: 572–579.

Kaye JA, et al (2001) Mumps, measles, and rubella vaccine and the incidence of autism recorded by general practitioners: a time trend analysis. BMJ 322: 460–463.

Lingam R, et al. (2003) Prevalence of autism and parentally reported triggers in a north east London population. Arch Dis Child 88: 666–670.

Makela A, Nuorti JP, Peltola H (2002) Neurologic disorders after measles-mumps-rubella vaccination. Pediatrics 110: 957–963.

Patja A, et al. (2000) Serious adverse events after measles-mumps-rubella vaccination during a fourteen-year prospective follow-up. Pediatr Infect Dis J 19: 1127–1134.

Peltola H, et al. (1998) No evidence for measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine-associated inflammatory bowel disease or autism in a 14-year prospective study. Lancet 351: 1327–1328.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for taking the time to email me about this post, so I could add it to the list.

    One of my blogging habits is to collate pro and con posts on a particular issue. One reason to do is that each blog has its own set of commenters and often the comments reveal aspects of the issue previously not considered elsewhere.

    Today's issue is the UK's General Medical Council's ruling on Andrew Wakefield.

    I've included this post in the list.

    The list can be found at

    http://lizditz.typepad.com/i_speak_of_dreams/2010/01/andrew-wakefield-dishonesty-misleading-conduct-and-serious-professional-misconduct.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. I absolutely agree, the GMC reacted too late to stop a massive fall in confidence in the vaccine. The story now needs to be focussed on getting parents to trust the MMR vaccine.

    I work at Sense, the charity for deafblind people and we work with families still living with the effects of previous rubella outbreaks. You can read our full response to this story on our website: Sense website

    ReplyDelete
  3. GMC tactics on another doctor, and these are good guys? I don't think so.
    jayne-donegan.co.uk/MyExperiencewiththeGeneralMedicalCouncil/tabid/985/Default.aspx

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anon: the website you cite is written by a homeopath, a quack practitioner and anti-vaccination fanatic. She claims to have read the science and discovered that vaccines don't really work. She might be lying, but she appears to be simply hopelessly confused and scientifically illiterate. That's the nicest way I can put it. She doesn't cite a single scientific study supporting her wild claims because there isn't one. Instead, her post is a long rant describing her own misguided interpretations of cherry-picked facts and half-truths.

    ReplyDelete

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