The Daily Telegraph's fake history of the Wakefield story
I am publishing my notes on the "at a glance" history of the MMR controversy from Charles Hymas article Facebook putting children's lives at risk by reviving spurious MMR claims, say UK healthchiefs (27 July).While Hymas is a former Sunday Times journalist, he possibly has a good record in investigating corruption but he is missing the mark here. For more detail reader's are referred to Vera Sharav's annotated account at AHRP L'affaire Wakefield.
"In 1998, respected medical journal The Lancet carried the results of a small-scale study (12 children) that claimed a link between the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) combined vaccine and autism and colitis in children."
This is untrue. The team carried out a review of a series of cases seen and treated on the basis of clinical need. It did not claim a link between MMR, autism and colitis but recorded medical histories and parental concerns. This is easily checkable against the text of the paper. In listening to parents’ concerns about vaccine reactions, the Royal Free team were manifestly acting more ethically than doctors who ignore them.
"The leader of the research team, Andrew Wakefield promoted mass media coverage of the study. MMR became the biggest science story of 2002 and the public’s confidence in the vaccine was seriously shaken and vaccination rates fell."
Is there any evidence that Wakefield promoted media coverage? No details given. By the end of 2001 Wakefield had already left for the United States, but a bad taste was left in the public's mind by the refusal of Prime Minister Tony Blair to say whether his son Leo had been vaccinated. Plainly health officials were out for revenge.
"Concerned over MMR safety, organisations such as the NHS, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Cochrane Library carried out large-scale epidemiological studies. These highlighted some adverse vaccine effects, such as rashes and joint pain, but could not replicate the findings of the original study."
The officially promoted studies were clearly defective as shown by the Cochrane Review of 2005.The Cochrane review of MMR safety anticipated the revelations of the William Thompson and the film Vaxxed regarding the the 2004 DeStefano study suggesting that data had been omitted, and described the flawed data sets in the Madsen study, the coordinator of which, Poul Thorsen, is still on the run for embezzlement. Other autism studies (Fombonne, Taylor etc.) also got short shrift.
"In 2004, Sunday Times journalist Brian Deer revealed that, two years prior to the research, Wakefield had been hired by lawyers from the UK’s legal aid fund, who were hoping to prove that the vaccine damaged children. This undeclared conflict of interest led to The Lancet partially retracting publication of the study."
It emerged at the GMC hearing that the Lancet knew of Wakefield's involvement in the court case nearly a year before publication of the paper, and although by convention acting as a court expert does not constitute "a conflict" Wakefield acknowledged his involvement in the case in a letter published in the Lancet in 1998, and it was never hidden. The pretence that this was news in 2004 - how for instance could the defendent pharmaceutical companies not know? - was itself a fake.
"The study was fully retracted in 2010, after allegations that the study data had been falsified. At the same time, the General Medical Council found Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct, unnecessarily invasive tests on children and multiple, undeclared conflicts of interest. He was struck off the medical register."
The findings of the GMC in respect of the paper were rejected by the High Court in 2012 which is misleadingly not mentioned. It is fanciful to describe taking routine blood samples with consent of parents and children as "invasive".
"The scientific consensus is that there is no causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism."
While this may be true it is of very little consequence given the political and institutional biases involved.