Monday, July 9, 2007

"Witch Hunt" of Scientist Who First Publicized Autism-MMR Link

Even as new research indicates that 1 out of every 58 children in Great Britain have autism or Asperger's syndrome, the researcher who first blew the whistle on the link between the condition and the combined Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine is facing persecution for daring to criticize the medical establishment. Dr. Andrew Wakefield is facing a July 16th disciplinary hearing before the General Medical Council, the British organization that investigates alleged malpractice.

The hearing stems from allegations about Dr. Wakefield's research published in 1998 in the medical journal Lancet that found a link between the combined MMR vaccine, autism, and inflammatory bowel disease. The researchers believe that in some children the combination live virus vaccine damaged the immune system leaving them susceptible to illness. Dr. Wakefield told journalists who asked about the safety of the combined MMR vaccine:
"It's a moral issue, and I can't support the continued use of these three vaccines given in combination until this issue has been resolved."
Naturally, this infuriated the medical establishment and Dr. Wakefield was publicly vilified by the Chief Medical Officer, the then Health Secretary and then Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Muckraking by investigative journalist Brian Deer of The Sunday Times led to a whole laundry list of supposed ethical lapses by the Wakefield team. Dr. Wakefield has steadfastly denied all the accusations and considers them to be part of "a long-running 'Stalinist' campaign to ruin his reputation."

According to the Observer article:

"To supporters, Wakefield is a hero, a lone crusader for truth and a principled, caring doctor challenging a policy that is harming significant numbers of children. Some scientists, a handful of doctors and parents of sons and daughters they claim have been damaged by the triple vaccine see him as the victim of a Department of Health-led plot to discredit him, and the GMC hearing as a show trial designed to suppress an uncomfortable truth.

Wakefield, talking to The Observer in his only interview before the hearing, says he plans to defend himself vigorously against allegations he sees as ill-conceived and malicious. 'I've done what I've done because my motivation is the suffering of children I've seen and the determination of devoted, articulate, rational parents to find out why part of them has been destroyed, why their child has been ruined. Why would I go through this process of professional isolation if it was simply to do with egomania? My alleged egomania doesn't explain things very well. There's been no upside for me in having pursued this issue. It's been very difficult.

'As Vaclav Havel once said: "Follow the man who seeks the truth; run from the man who has found it." I can't tell you that we know that the MMR vaccine causes autism. But the Department of Health can tell you with 100 per cent certainty that it doesn't, and they believe that, and that concerns me greatly.'"

I encountered this resistance by the medical establishment first-hand a couple months ago when I requested my pediatrician give my DS the monovalent (separate) Measles vaccine rather than the combined MMR. The chances of him being exposed to either mumps or rubella in the following six months are very slim, and even if he were to catch those diseases the chances for serious complications are low. Given the uncertainty surrounding the combined MMR vaccine, I believe it is less risky to separate them out. Yes, my DS will need to get three jabs rather than one and we will have extra co-pays, but so what? Autism is such a profoundly life-changing condition that it's worth a few extra minutes of discomfort and dollars to reduce my child's risk of developing it.

My pediatrician had an absolute hissy fit over this simple request. She ranted at me for probably a good fifteen minutes about what a mistake she thought I was making and kept claiming that science had proven the combined MMR is safe. Now I had done my homework and knew that was not a true statement. There are serious problems and conflicts of interest with the studies purporting to show there is no link. I don't know for sure whether there is indeed a link, but enough questions have been raised about it to warrant caution.

I hope Dr. Wakefield prevails in his fight to keep his medical license! I have no doubt that he is being targeted as retribution for daring to criticize the establishment. Would his critics be going after him with such a vengeance if his research supported the status quo? I think not! Dr. Wakefield is not the first whistleblower to face persecution for making public information that reflects poorly on the powers that be. I applaud his courage for refusing to back down in the face of this "witch hunt".

UPDATE: You can sign a petition in support of Dr. Wakefield here.

1 comment:

Clay said...

Wakefield is a quack who will soon be PROVEN to be a quack.