Dr. Andrew Wakefield and the Distasteful Practice of the Ignorant “Pile On”

It is not often that I will publish an entire article from another source on this blog, but I felt that this article and the open letter that follows it were so important, they needed to be read and distributed as widely as possible. These pieces come from the excellent blog by Louise Kuo-Habakus of LifeHealth Choices. Louise is a tireless health advocate who has done amazing work in the United States – especially in the State of New Jersey – the home of just about every single multi-national pharmaceutical company out there and victim of some of the most repressive vaccination legislation around. I hope that those  of you who live in the US will appreciate the work done by volunteers like Louise and will support them with your donations and hands-on help.

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I have been watching and listening to the media circus following the vilification of Dr. Andrew Wakefield with great interest and sadness. I pray that people will rise above our sound bite world to understand that there is a tremendous amount at stake and we all better be paying careful attention.

WAKEFIELD’S LANCET PAPER

Here’s what you need to know. In February 1998, a paper entitled Ileal-lymphoid-nodular-hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder was submitted by thirteen medical researchers to the Lancet, a British medical journal, observing the presence of a novel form of inflammatory bowel disease in twelve children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. All children received the combination measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and onset behavioral symptoms were noted after receipt of the triple jab in 8 of the 12 children. The paper recommended further inquiry and explicitly stated no proof of causation between vaccination and autism. That’s it. There is nothing in the paper that could lead anyone to state that the authors intended to wage war against the wisdom of vaccination in general or the MMR vaccine specifically.

PARENTS ARE DESPERATELY CONCERNED ABOUT VACCINES

There can be no doubt that the paper struck a chord among parents worldwide, already consumed with anxiety about the dramatic increase in very ill children diagnosed with autism, and the more important fact that our medical establishment and public health officials still have no idea why. The degree of parental concern is not unreasonable. Governments and doctors employ a variety of ways to urge and compel us to vaccinate. The trend has been to give more shots and earlier. In the U.S., we now start on day of birth. With the present addition of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine and a double dose for children under ten, fully 89 doses of 17 different vaccines are currently recommended to age 18. Increasingly, people are questioning whether all these shots are such a good idea.

WHAT HAPPENED?

There can be no doubt that the paper also struck a chord within the medical establishment.  Many parents stopped vaccinating and the government was hopping mad.

The Lancet paper merely offered an organized and methodical framework to view data on twelve children. It also recommended we do more science. What parents chose to do with this information is a separate issue.  That many stopped vaccinating to await the outcome of further scientific inquiry can be regarded as a public health failing, not the fault of one medical journal article about the experiences of twelve children.  What has subsequently unfolded is a systematic, chilling and deeply unfortunate process to blame the authors of the paper for reduced vaccination uptake.

Ten of the authors retracted their support. This happened six years later, in 2004, and is entirely understandable. Who could blame them? Their reputations, credentials and livelihood were at stake. Remarkably, however, the first author, Andrew Wakefield, would not retract. What has ensued, culminating in the General Medical Council’s recent decision to censure Wakefield, is a very public smackdown. The purpose is to send an unambiguous message to other researchers who might dare possess a similar degree of arrogance and continue their scientific inquiry into the causes of a disorder affecting a great number of very sick children.

UNLIKE BRITONS, ALL AMERICANS DO NOT HAVE CHOICE

It is also instructive how the media has seized, indeed lunged at the opportunity to draw applicability of the Wakefield example in our country, while failing to highlight a salient difference. Britons enjoy the privilege of vaccination choice. They cannot be compelled by the government to vaccinate for any reason, including a requirement for school admission or employment. Over half of Americans, in thirty-two states, do not have vaccination choice. If we are so keen to compare ourselves to our friends across the pond, perhaps we should start by looking at the reasons why they have choice and we do not.

THE MEDICAL “PILE-ON”

Doctors have wasted no time in pillorying one of their own. Overnight, Andrew Wakefield has become the poster child for irresponsible and unethical medicine. I find the medical “pile-on” reprehensible. And I urge doctors who care about their profession to take heed. Please consider the following an open letter to all professionals who take the extraordinary step to label anyone concerned about vaccines: anti-vaccine, vaccine deniers, irresponsible, and societal parasites. Our nation must find the way to engage in a responsible and respectful dialogue about vaccines. In my opinion, the failure to do so will irrevocably damage public confidence in government, medicine and industry.

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