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Wakefield’s MMR work takes another kicking

vaccine alamyAndrew Wakefield has been thrust back into the limelight today, along with his discredited views on links between the MMR vaccine and autism.

The world’s media has jumped at the chance to have another shot at Wakefield, as provided by the BMJ, which has peer-reviewed the claims of journalist and long standing bane-of-Wakefield, Brian Deer.

Deer’s work for the Sunday Times was the first to really detail the flaws in Wakefield’s claims and the baseless nature of subsequent public scares over what now appears to be a non-existent link between receiving the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine and developing autism. Deer was also the target of legal action by Wakefield over his work, although the doctor eventually abandoned the case.

Now his allegations of fraud in the key paper in the MMR scandal, published by the Lancet, have been scrutinised by the BMJ.

In an editorial accompanying the latest of Deer’s takedowns the journal’s editors say it is clear that Wakefield is guilty of fraud:

Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No. A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross.

Or, as one headline writer succinctly puts it: “Lying MMR Doc set out to scare mums over jabs”.

On one level, all this repetition of what has been widely reported already is likely to make very little difference to Wakefield. He has already seen that Lancet paper withdrawn and been slammed by doctors’ regulator the GMC.

On the other hand, some are now calling for Wakefield to face fraud charges over his use of public funds in his research. This would be a serious development, although not one likely to damage his standing among the dwindling but increasingly fanatic supports of the anti-vaccine movement.

Talking to CNN, Wakefield said he had not read the latest BMJ articles but that Deer’s previous allegations were false. Wakefield claimed “he’s a hitman, he’s been brought in to take me down because they are very, very concerned about the adverse reactions that are occurring in children”. He said he did not know who ‘they’ were.

Image: Alamy


  1. Report this comment

    Matt said:

    Will this make a difference to Wakefield? He didn’t bother to read the papers in the BMJ. He was a bit busy this week attending an antivaccine conference in Jamaica. When his work gets slammed his supporters ignore the facts and rally around him. In his current circle of psuedoscience, his speaker fees probably went up. Expect anti vaccine groups to announce awards for him soon.

  2. Report this comment

    Elizabeth Moon said:

    Wakefield moved from the UK to Austin, Texas and founded “Thoughtful House” to continue promulgating his ideas and scaring parents in this high-tech/autism-dense city. Anti-vaccine advocates had tried to blame autism on other vaccines in online communities (DT, DPT, and polio were also on the hit list) but Wakefield’s publication in a very respectable journal made his attack on MMR the dominant anti-vaccine dogma.

    As parent of an autist who was never taken in, I’m delighted that the fraud was finally noticed. However, he and his fervent supporters are still promulgating his “theory” which the credulous and conspiracy-theorists find palatable.

  3. Report this comment

    Lucija Tomljenovic said:

    Being pro-vaccine safety does NOT make one anti-vaccine. It would be like saying someone was anti-car if they supported the Toyota 2010 recall of 1.53 million cars (due to a faulty brake master cylinder seal that potentially could have resulted in brake fluid leakage).

    I was at the conference as well and I am not anti-vaccine. I am anti-bad science.

    The BMJ editorial was absolutely appalling and misrepresented.“12 studies showing no link” …. the “clear evidence of falsification” … What was the “compelling evidence” and how did Dr. Wakefield “skew” medical records he didn’t have? The Royal Free hospital doctors who recorded the children’s medical histories would not have had access to the GPs’ medical records. Also, Wakefield’s case study never once said that vaccines (ie. the MMR) “caused” autism. He suggested more study into the matter. He suggested ‘splitting" the shots up into single shots but the makers of the MMR wouldn’t hear of it and refused to give parents that option.

    Also, has anyone wondered “how” Brian Deer, a freelance journalist got a hold of the children’s “private” medical records? Isn’t that kind of against the law ?

    How come that none of the Lancet 12 parents EVER complained against Wakefield? You would expect that if his research was indeed unethical.

    And to believe the media hypes about the measles epidemic is not exactly scientific. Has there been an actual study to show how many of the children who contracted measles were actually vaccinated and how many non-vaccinated? If you search the literature you will find that outbreaks of infectious diseases frequently occur in fully vaccinated populations [1,2] most likely because vaccines suppress Th1 cellular immunity which is inherently far more effective against viral infections [3,4]. This is also the reason why there are increasing efforts to develop vaccines which stimulate Th1 responses [5,6].

    1 Gustafson TL, Lievens AW et al. (1987) Measles outbreak in a fully immunized secondary-school population. NEJM 316(13), 771-4.

    2 Tugwell BD, Lee LE, Gillette H, Lorber EM, Hedberg K, Cieslak PR (2004) Chickenpox outbreak in a highly vaccinated school population. Pediatrics 113, 3 Pt 1, 455-459.

    3 Makidon PE et al. (2008) Pre-clinical evaluation of a novel nanoemulsion-based hepatitis B mucosal vaccine. PLoS One 3, e2954.

    4 Israeli E, Shoenfeld Y et al. (2009) Adjuvants and autoimmunity. Lupus 18:1217-1225.

    5 Geissler M, Tokushige K, Chante CC, Zurawski VR Jr, Wands JR (1997) Cellular and humoral immune response to hepatitis B virus structural proteins in mice after DNA-based immunization. Gastroenterology 112: 1307–1320.

    6 Schirmbeck R, Zheng X, Roggendorf M, Geissler M, Chisari FV, et al. (2001) Targeting Murine Immune Responses to Selected T Cell- or Antibody-Defined Determinants of the Hepatitis B Surface Antigen by Plasmid DNA Vaccines Encoding Chimeric Antigen. J Immunol 166: 1405–1413.

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