The doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children, Andrew Wakefield, acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" with his research and had "callous disregard" for the children involved in his study according to the UK's General Medical Council.
About a decade ago, Wakefield published a study of autistic children developing symptoms shortly after being vaccinated with the MMR vaccine, and linked this with irritated intestinal tracts. This study was heavily criticized, and eventually most of the authors retracted the conclusion that autism was associated with vaccinations. Moreover, there are allegations Wakefield faked his data, and had serious conflicts of interest.
By the time most of this came to light, it was too late, and the modern anti-vaccination movement was born. In its wake are sick children.
From BBC News:
The doctor who first suggested a link between MMR vaccinations and autism acted unethically, the official medical regulator has found. Dr Andrew Wakefield's 1998 Lancet study caused vaccination rates to plummet, resulting in a rise in measles - but the findings were later discredited.
The General Medical Council ruled he had acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" in doing his research.
Afterwards, Dr Wakefield said the claims were "unfounded and unjust"... The GMC now has to consider whether Dr Wakefield's behaviour, and that of his colleagues, amounts to serious professional misconduct and then if any sanctions should be imposed, such as striking them off the medical register.
However, a ruling is not expected for some months.
Medical experts said it was now important to move on from the controversy and remember that plenty of research had supported the use of the three-in-one jab. Dr Shona Hilton, of the Medical Research Council, said: "We need to continue rebuilding trust with parents that MMR vaccination is safe."
The General Medical Council didn't consider whether Wakefield's claims were correct or not, only his behavior & methods in conducting the research in which his claim originates. But let's be clear. Wakefield's conclusions have been litigated in court, and reviewed by other medical professionals who've found his claims to be totally wrong.
So why did the General Medical Council find Wakefield acted dishonestly and irresponsibly?
From the report:
- Without ethical approval or the proper qualifications, Dr. Wakefield performed procedures such as spinal taps on the children in the study, which were found to be against their best clinical interests.
- Wakefield gathered blood samples for his study by paying children £5 at his son's birthday party.
- GMC panel chairman Dr. Surendra Kumar said Wakefield acted with "callous disregard for the distress and pain the children might suffer" in his study. Kumar also said Dr. Wakefield should have disclosed the fact he had been paid to advise solicitors acting for parents who believed their children had been harmed by the MMR.
Also, while Wakefield was making claims about the MMR Vaccine, he had filed for a patent
on a "safer
" vaccine that he was hoping to sell after he discredited the MMR vaccine.
So to review... a flawed & possibly faked study of 12 children contributed to a hysteria that's resulted in the UK rate of inoculation to fall from 92% to the low 80s, and below 70% in some areas, compromising "herd immunity".
In 1998, there were just 56 cases of [Measles] in England and Wales; by 2008 there were 1,370.
In the United States, the CDC had declared the Measles virus eliminated a decade ago. However, parents refusing to vaccinate their children has contributed to a resurgence of not only.....
- Measles & Mumps - "In 2006, the largest outbreak of mumps in over 15 years, centered in Iowa and involving 10 other states, effected over 2,500 people. [In 2008], measles cases in 15 states contributed to the largest US outbreak in over 10 years. In Brooklyn, an unimmunized traveler from Israel infected other unimmunized children in a pediatrician’s office, sparking the borough’s largest outbreak of measles in almost 20 years. Other recent outbreaks in Indiana, San Diego, Arizona, Milwaukee, Washington State, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Texas are just the tip of the iceberg if this dangerous trend of vaccine refusal continues."
- Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib) - Hib once affected 1 in every 200 children under 5 years of age in the United States. In the 1980s, a vaccine against it was introduced & by 2006 the incidence of invasive Hib disease had been cut by 99%. However, "in 2008 five children in [Minnesota] (ranging from 5 months to 3 years of age) developed invasive disease due to Hib. That is the largest recorded number since 1992, just after the vaccine was licensed. Three of those children had meningitis, one had epiglottitis, and another had pneumonia. One child, a 7 month old with meningitis, died. Of those five children, 3 had received none of the recommended doses of Hib vaccine due to parental refusal. The other 2 were too young to have completed the series, and one of these had an immunodeficiency that likely made the vaccine ineffective. At first these five cases from Minnesota seemed like an isolated fluke. Then came the news... released by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, of seven more cases of invasive Haemophilus influenzae disease... All were children under 5, and all were unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated. Three of these seven children have been confirmed to have died. And... news of a 3 year old in Maine who is recovering from Hib meningitis. There hasn’t been a confirmed case of Hib meningitis in Maine since 1989."
From USA Today
Brendalee Flint did everything she could to keep her baby safe. She nourished her with breast milk; she gave her all the routine vaccines. But Flint never realized how much her daughter's health would depend on the actions of her friends, neighbors and even strangers.
By 15 months old, Flint's daughter, Julieanna Metcalf, was walking, exploring and even saying her first few words. Then one day in the bath, while fighting what seemed like an ordinary stomach bug, Julieanna became so weak and floppy that she couldn't hold up her head. "She couldn't say 'Help me,' but her eyes were begging me to do something," says Flint, 35. Flint rushed the baby to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with meningitis, a swelling of the lining of the brain, caused by a severe case of Hib, or Haemophilus influenzae type b. Julieanna was one of five children in Minnesota hospitalized with Hib in January 2008, the state's biggest outbreak since 1992.
[...]Parents who have never seen their children gasp for breath no longer fear these diseases and, in some cases, are delaying or skipping immunizations, says Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Many parents who reject vaccines do so because of the mistaken notions that they cause autism or overwhelm the immune system, Offit says. That worries moms such as Flint, who learned that her daughter has a rare immune deficiency only after she contracted Hib. Because Julieanna doesn't respond to vaccines, she depends on other parents to keep germs out of circulation by vaccinating their kids, a phenomenon called "herd immunity."
[...]Two years later, Julieanna still needs weekly injections to prop up her immune system — and might for the rest of her life, Flint says. Although Julieanna has relearned how to walk, she often falls, Flint says. She attends special-education sessions, as well as physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. Flint says she lives with the fear that Julieanna will suffer from lingering brain damage, as well as the knowledge that she remains vulnerable to a host of germs carried by her classmates.
- Pertussis (whooping cough) - In May, The New England Journal of Medicine laid the blame for clusters of disease outbreaks throughout the United States squarely at the feet of declining vaccination rates, while nonprofit health care provider Kaiser Permanente reported that unvaccinated children were 23 times more likely to get pertussis, a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes violent coughing and is potentially lethal to infants. In 2004, there were 26,000 reported whooping cough cases in the United States, up from only 1,000 in 1976. The causes for this are thought to be "inadequate vaccination of infants, waning of vaccine-induced immunity in adolescents and adults, and a high frequency of undiagnosed pertussis infection that can lead to spread of disease to susceptible individuals."
From The Gotham Skeptic
My pediatric practice is situated at the nexus of three Manhattan neighborhoods (the West Village, Chelsea, and the Meat Packing District) that seem to comprise just the right balance of wealth, edginess, and socio-cultural awareness that lends itself to this new mistrust of vaccines. But these neighborhoods are not unique. According to sources at the NYC DOH, the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Park Slope in Brooklyn are also hot-spots of parental vaccine resistance. What stands out about these neighborhoods, and others like them, is that they contain a high percentage of middle to upper middle class families that tend to be young, well educated, and liberal in their political and social views. Because I live in one of these areas, work in another, and fit this description pretty squarely, I can identify with the underlying tendencies at work behind the concerns of these parents. A healthy questioning of authority (doctors), an underlying mistrust in the competence of the government (the CDC), overt mistrust and a general level of cynicism of big business (the pharmaceutical industry), and a sense of empowerment that comes with one’s social status, all contribute to this tendency to mistrust vaccines and those who recommend them. The difference between these concerned parents and myself (also a parent), is an understanding of the scientific method and the role it plays in this issue. One term that I have purposefully left out as a key element in this new epidemic is "skepticism." While many of these parents believe they are being skeptical of vaccines, their manufacturers and the agencies that recommend them, this couldn’t be further from the truth. What they are being is misled and taken advantage of. They would actually be better characterized as anti-skeptics.
The net result of this snowballing paranoia and anti-skepticism, is that the door has opened wide for anti-vaccine fear-mongering by an increasing number of organizations and non science-based "maverick" doctors, and parents are listening. Not a day goes by in my practice without encountering the effects of this mass-hysteria. Parents are afraid of vaccines, victims of a cultural mythology about vaccine risks that has been bolstered by a wave of media hype and irresponsible pseudo-journalism. I spend a large amount of time with parents discussing the real science and trying to debunk these hardened myths. Often I am successful at convincing them to vaccinate their children.
Over at Time, Joel Stein once had a column giving the west coast side of things. He discusses the argument between him & his wife Cassandara over vaccination of their son. One of the funniest things about the column is Stein writing about going to a "wellness" seminar.
Unlike Cassandra, I feel it's important to overload our child with toxic levels of chemicals, risking permanent damage to his nervous system. At least that's how she saw it. Her concern about the safety of vaccines is not unique, at least not in the liberal, wealthy part of L.A. where we live. Several friends have not vaccinated their children, and we know pediatricians who recommend avoiding some or all shots. And I know almost no one who is willing to get the swine-flu shot, and not because everyone here is Jewish. It's because while the far right gets a lot of crap about not believing in science, the left isn't crazy about it either. Only instead of rejecting facts that conflict with the Bible, it ignores anything that conflicts with hippie myths about the perfection of nature. That's why my neighborhood is full of places you can go to detoxify with colonics, get healed with crystals and magnets and buy non--genetically engineered food. We complain less about the liberal side of antiscience because the women who believe in this stuff are generally hot.
[...]To try to be open-minded and stop our fighting, I went to a seminar about inoculation at Cassandra's yoga center. Along with about 50 other people, we paid $30 each to listen to Dr. Lauren Feder. I was doing a pretty good job of distracting myself until Feder told us that a good case of whooping cough can protect your child from asthma, that measles cure eczema and that only 1% of the mere 15% of prevaccine kids who got polio became paralyzed. Feder really sees the good side of life-threatening diseases. I bet she believes Ebola cures wrinkles.
After an hour, I asked a question about whether putting off the vaccine for hepatitis B until puberty was completely safe, or if a child could get the disease from being bitten by another kid. "You go with what feels right," Feder told me. This confused me, so I asked again. "I don't see hep B in my practice very often," she said. "I see hep B--vaccine side effects. Which is multiple sclerosis. I respond to what I see." She added that she doesn't worry about improbable scenarios like infected children biting each other, saying simply, "I don't go there." I do not believe Jonas Salk ever told a questioner to talk to his hand. At the break, we left and got the largest, least organic burgers we could find. I didn't see anyone dying of heart failure, so I responded by getting the onion rings and fries... After many studies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and American Medical Association have all found that the minuscule risks of vaccines are outweighed by the tremendous benefit they provide to individual and public health. And that's good enough for me.
So where is Doctor Wakefield now? He's in Austin, Texas.
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.
I've written about the vaccination issue before, going one by one through some of the more oft repeated anti-vax claims. Some felt I was mean with the title of that diary ("Anti-Vaccine Idiocy"). In the comments there were some who felt I shouldn't have called the anti-vaccine movement idiotic if I wanted to persuade 'em. But if a stack of medical studies, published & peer reviewed in various medical journals, representing the scientific consensus can't persuade 'em with facts, how do you think someone named Rimjob citing the medical studies & medical journals is going to? Also, if something is ridiculous & idiotic, it deserves to be called ridiculous & idiotic, since hopefully those that have an open mind can recognize it as ridiculous & idiotic. And in this case, it's not only ridiculous & idiotic, it's also dangerous to public health. What else can you call it when you have a place like the Huffington Post putting out articles advising people to treat Swine Flu with diluted water that's supposed to have a memory (AKA Homeopathy), instead of vaccination?
As Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomoy has written, the anti-vaccine movement is NOT based on evidence, just as the case with 9-11 Truthers, Creationists, Holocaust deniers, Global Warming deniers, or the people who think the Moon Landings are a hoax. They simply hate vaccines.
Now, that might seem like a tautology. But it’s not, not really. It’s actually relevant because the antivax movement must change its story (what we skeptics call "moving the goalposts") every time they are conclusively proven wrong. That happens a lot. When it’s pointed out that mercury doesn’t cause autism (removing it from vaccines did not lower the autism diagnosis incidence rate), they say vaccines contain squalene, or fetal tissue, or ghosts, or the Loch Ness monster.
Of course, when it’s shown that autism rates have nothing to do with vaccination, they ignore it, or spin it, or lie about it.
In a sense, the loudest proponents stick to their movement the way a racist sticks with their prejudices. You can tear down their specific claims about a particular group of people point by point, but in the end the racist simply hates people in that group. It’s not rational, or logical, or reasonable. It just is.
People have the right to believe & choose whatever they want. That is one of the great things about this country. However, those choices have consequences. Not only for their children, but other children like Julieanna Metcalf, who may have to deal with the consequences for the rest of her life.
Part of what infuriates me about this issue is that I'm aware of a case where a child was infected with Measles before he was old enough to be immunized against it. The source of the infection was an older child at a day care whose parents decided against vaccination.
The child's Measles progressed to subacute sclerosing panencephalitis from which his brain deteriorated, eventually causing loss of body function, and an all-around horrible death. All of which could be traced back to abject human stupidity.