20th anniversary of the Andrew Wakefield vaccine fraud – no celebrations

andrew wakefield

I’m a couple of months late with this article because of life and reasons, but a bit over 20 years ago, in February 1998, Andrew Wakefield published his infamous article in Lancet, which was eventually retracted in 2010. He stated that “onset of behavioural symptoms was associated, by the parents, with measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination in eight of the 12 children.” Because Wakefield claimed that most of the behavioral problems were autism, that became the rallying cry of the anti-vaccine religion for the past 20 years – the MMR vaccine, if not all vaccines, cause autism.

I actually remember getting that particular issue of Lancet 20 years ago, and I ran across that article. My first thought was, “why in hell would Lancet publish such a troublesome article with just 12 freaking (not the word I used) data points.” Then I wondered who that Wakefield character was – was he an expert on vaccines and childhood behavioral issues? Well, the internet in 1998 didn’t have search engines like we do today, so finding out anything about Andrew Wakefield was difficult at best. I just assumed that if the Lancet, one of the top medical journals in the world, published it, Wakefield must have some level of respect.

Even though the internet was as much a bastion of pseudoscience and conspiracists as it is now, you would never “do your research” on the internet. But our local newspaper had a blurb about the Wakefield study in a Sunday health section, and my wife read the article. She got panicked that our two young daughters, who were having upcoming MMR vaccines, would become autistic. That was my first experience in having to defend vaccines against nonsense (don’t tell my wife I called her worries were nonsense).

My daughters eventually got that vaccine (and received all subsequent vaccines up to and including the HPV vaccine), although even I monitored my children for a few weeks for any behavioral changes. Knowing what I know now, I should have just a fun dad, but I admit to worrying.

Let’s remind everyone about the frauds and lies of Andrew Wakefield because it has led to the return of vaccine-preventable diseases. Continue reading “20th anniversary of the Andrew Wakefield vaccine fraud – no celebrations”

Once more about Andrew Wakefield fraud extraordinaire

For the handful of you who don’t know him, MrAndrew Wakefield fraudulently alleged a connection between the MMR vaccine, for measles, mumps and rubella) and autism – this has had the effect of suppressing vaccination rates in many countries. His claims were published in a now retracted paper published in the Lancet, a mostly respected medical journal who seemed to have forgotten how to do proper peer review back in the late 1990’s. This is a quick review of the Andrew Wakefield fraud.

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss – Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA) – is a frequent contributor to this blog. She had posted an article that debunks the myth that Andrew Wakefield is probably innocent of all charges made against him by the UK’s General Medical Council (GMC). Basically, some of the antivaccination crowd believes that because Wakefield’s partner in the fraud, Professor John Walker-Smith, had his own decision by the GMC overturned, it is considered evidence that Andrew Wakefield was wronged when the GMC found Wakefield, too, guilty of serious ethical violations. But that would be an incorrect interpretation of the facts. Continue reading “Once more about Andrew Wakefield fraud extraordinaire”

Andrew Wakefield – dishonest attempt at self-justification

Andrew Wakefield

The movie Vaxxed is an anti-vaccine polemic that claims, despite all of the high quality contradictory evidence, that there is a link between the MMR vaccine, for mumps, measles and rubella, and autism. Furthermore, it claims that the US government is engaging in a conspiracy to hide said link. Reviews of the film have appropriately emphasized the checkered past of its director, Andrew Wakefield, a discredited ex-scientist with a history of misrepresentations. Many of the reviews point out that Wakefield is not a credible source for information on vaccines.

In a recent video posted on the Vaxxed website, Andrew Wakefield took those claims head on, mounting a passionate defense of his reputation. If anything, however, this video further shows that Wakefield is not a good source of information.

The video’s claims range from unsupported (and implausible) to blatantly false. Unfortunately for Wakefield, Brian Deer meticulously documented each step in the events, making it relatively easy to identify the problems in these claims. Unfortunately for the rest of us, Wakefield’s adherents are unlikely to check his claims, and others may also accept his word without fact-checking. It’s therefore worth going through the claims.

To hear Wakefield, he was the victim of a conspiracy mounted because he dared raise safety concerns about vaccines. But as with his book, Callous Disregard (pdf), Wakefield’s claims are ill founded. In short, there are good reasons he lost his license and his reputation as a serious scientist.

A brief review of the history of this story – in 1998, Wakefield and co-authors published a paper suggesting that the measles component of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine caused changes in some children’s guts, and that those changes were associated with autism.

In 2007, after extensive investigation by Brian Deer published at The Sunday Times, Britain’s General Medical Council (GMC) opened an investigation of their own to answer the question: Did Wakefield engage in serious professional misconduct?  In May 2010, the GMC found that yes, he did, and removed Wakefield from the British medical register (pdf).

Wakefield’s claims in the Allegations video can be put into three categories:

  1. there were no serious ethical violations or fraud in relation to the article he published in the Lancet;
  2. he’d done nothing wrong otherwise, measles outbreaks are not his fault, the GMC decision was generally wrong, and Walker-Smith’s acquittal shows that; and
  3. Brian Deer’s articles are a fraud motivated by a conspiracy.

None of these claims hold water.

Continue reading “Andrew Wakefield – dishonest attempt at self-justification”