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Wakefield vows to continue vaccine-autism research

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  May 24, 2010 04:14 PM

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Stripped today of his license to practice medicine, Dr. Andrew Wakefield -- whose 1998 study on the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine and autism led millions of parents to stop vaccinating their children -- insists that he will continue with his research into vaccines and autism. 

"My concern is for vaccine safety, for a safety-first vaccine policy," Dr. Wakefield told me in an interview today. "I have every intention of continuing to serve this population of children for as long as I can."

Earlier today, The British government announced that it had found Wakefield guilty of "serious professional misconduct" in the way that he and his colleagues carried out their research; they are not investigating the science behind it. The ruling affects Wakefield's ability to practice medicine in the United Kingdom but not in other countries. He is currently not licensed to practice in the U.S., though he does do clinical research here and was on the board of The Thoughtful House for Children, an autism center in Austin, Texas, until he resigned in February 2010.

According to the Associated Press, vaccination rates in the UK have never recovered after Wakefield's 1998 study linking the MMR vaccine to autism in children -- in spite of the fact that the study involved just 12 children, clearly stated that no causal connection between the two had been proven (though it did say that the possibility had been raised), and was officially retracted in February by the Lancet, the medical journal in which it was originally published. Some people have extrapolated the findings to include all vaccinations, not just the MMR

Wakefield, who defends himself in his new book out this week (Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines -- The Truth Behind a Tragedy) says that he feels there could be a benefit to reducing the number of vaccinations children receive overall. "I think there are certain vaccinations that are not justified," he says, pointing to last-year's outbreak of mumps in New York and New Jersey, in which most patients had been properly immunized, and questioning the effectiveness of the vaccine. The fact that immunity waned "has created a public health crisis." He also takes issue with the chicken pox vaccine, saying that it was originally marketed as a way to help mothers avoid having to take time off from work to tend to sick children.

"I do believe that there is a very good case for slowing down, for asking very very important questions about what should and shouldn't be in the [vaccination schedule]," he says.

No one says that vaccines are 100 percent safe -- the side effects are well documented by the CDC -- but while the medical community rejects the idea of vaccine-autism link in general, there is scientific evidence that vaccines can act as a trigger for children with certain medical issues, like mitochondrial disease. When people conduct population-based studies, Wakefield said, they are not usually talking about these small groups of children who may be genetically predisposed to an adverse reaction. 

"I think that the MMR is just part of the equation," he said. The childhood vaccines preceding the first MMR dose used to contain Thimerosal, which Wakefield described as "exquisitely poisonous in small doses."

"One could reasonably argue that the synergistic action of a poison followed by a virus could lead to a toxic overload," he said. "The priority must be on finding a comprehensive way to look at interactions. Is there a cumulative effect? Are we damaging children's immune systems by giving them too many vaccinations?"

Though several large-scale studies have refuted the MMR-autism link, there are more than 5,500 claims filed by families seeking compensation for children believed to have been hurt by the MMR vaccine, the Associated Press reported, and Wakefield points to certain "vaccine court" rulings as proof that a link exists. "The American government has conceded in vaccine court that vaccines -- including the MMR -- cause autism," he said, adding that the government has been settling autism-related cases without much fanfare since the early 1990s.

At least some of those court cases involved children with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord that damages the material that insulates nerve fibers in the brain. (The damage from the inflammation, which the court ruled was caused by the MMR vaccine, eventually led to pervasive developmental delay.) Wakefield's research focused on gastrointestinal issues, not brain inflammation, but he is currently studying the possibility of a neurological-gastrointestinal link, something that has been seen in other species.  "The gut-brain link is more of a scientific interest," he said. "We're looking at it in the primate model as well, and how it might affect the developing brain."

The loss of his medical license probably will affect his research, Wakefield said, and he considers the British government's condemnation of his work to be an effort to discredit him because, he said, people fear accountability. "The government is conceding [a link] in secret or in court, but publically saying vaccines are safe," he said. "My job as a scientist is to try and find out what that truth is."

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.

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15 comments so far...
  1. absolute crime what they did to him. Stop trying to cover up and get your pockets lined by the Pharm companies.

    Posted by Lorri Parker May 24, 10 09:33 PM
  1. This article sounds like you are trying to suggest that Wakfield's claims have some merit. Wakefield's so called research has been completely and utterly discredited. If you are trying to be fair and balanced and not simply bolster his unsupported claims, please interview a reputable and credible scientist such as Paul Offit. You would also do well do read his book, "Autism's False Profits" if you have not yet had the chance.

    Posted by bv May 24, 10 09:35 PM
  1. It's his "science" that got him struck off the records. He did not have ethics approval for the study he did, no ethics committee would have approved of spinal taps and gut biopsies without cause (one child in the study was punctured over 10 times and had a bleeding gut a year after his participation). Wakefield claimed the patients were consecutively referred. They were not, they were sent in by a lawyer seeking to sue vaccine manufacturers. Wakefield was paid by this lawyer before designing the study and was contracted to be an expert witness before there was any "evidence." If Wakefield had disclosed this conflict of interest, The Lancet would not have published his study which has never been replicated. Wakefield was told by his research assistance Nicholas Chadwick (see Ominbus Autis Proceedings notes) that there were no results positive for evidence of measles in the guts of the children in the study but Wakefield ignored this. Wakefield is dishonest, irresponsible, and unethical. That's what the GMC said. He is a fraud. A rich fraud with a devout following but a fraud.

    Oh, by the way, in terms of too many too soon ("we need to slow down"), a study was published in the lowly journal Pediatrics today suggesting that the only risk of receiving today's schedule of vaccination is the risk of not being susceptible to childhood diseases. YOU and other bright, young mothers need to brush up on the scrouges of childhood diseases that have not been around because of the US vaccine program. Not the Google Ph.D. of Jenny McCarthy (who chain smoked through her pregnancy - go read her book on her pregnancy - smoking correlates with increased risk of autism but it must be the vaccines that caused her child's autism - or was in Landau-Kleffner syndrome???) but the science that shows that vaccines have eradicated many horrible diseases that our children are not going to suffer from unless those Google Ph.D.s have their way.

    Posted by obiwannabe May 24, 10 09:59 PM
  1. You are right about horrible diseases. But is varicella horrible disease? do you think mumps are absolutely life threatening? I don't think so. USA went overboard. Vaccines as any drugs have side effects so you always should think about benefit/risk ratio. for measles - it is really dangerous, so let vaccinate with individual attenuvax (Merck) measles vaccine.What the big deal about triple vaccine?

    Posted by eugenia May 24, 10 11:56 PM
  1. Eugenia...you obviously have no idea what you're talking about. Varicella in its full form is deadly. Ask a pedi ER doc some time what these diseases you think are "no big deal" look like when they are at full strength (which, btw, happens when the population isn't vaccinated against them). Vaccines save lives.

    Lorri--This doctor was a horrible doc. He used unethical practices and his ONE study has been proven wrong by more than FORTY. But let's not let science get in the way of the fear mongering.

    Posted by headdesk May 25, 10 11:48 AM
  1. I don't know how Dr. Wakefield retains any credibility whatsoever. It's not just that his science has been found entirely faulty, it's also been found that is pretty much morally corrupt, as well -- both for how he conducted his experiments, as well as the financial conflicts of interest.

    That people keep on believing this amazes me, not to mention the complete misunderstanding of how vaccines work, and of course the risks that they expose other people to, all based on sham "science" that someone used to get rich.

    Posted by J May 25, 10 12:35 PM
  1. If I was an active member of the autism community, I'd be looking for Dr. Wakefield's head. They never believe studies because of the perceived conflicts of interest (any relationship what so ever to the CDC or Federal Government which virtually every research body has) yet they are supportive of someone who falsified information and conducted unethical research. He received direct compensation for his results from the lawyers and his patents. That goes well beyond conflict of interest. Many of his transgressions were not even addressed in this article.

    I do believe that there is an environmental component to the rise in autism and I pray the "community" starts searching for credible representatives that will call for the appropriate research which may include vaccines but also needs to investigate plastics, toxins, pesticides, etc. You can't march behind Jenny McCarthy and Dr. Wakefield and expect the world to take you seriously.

    Posted by Jayne May 25, 10 01:40 PM
  1. In the press conference following the publication of his (now retracted) lancet article, Wakefield made a point of stating that he thought the MMR vaccine should be suspended.

    Now he wants to hide behind the idea that his paper never fully claimed that MMR causes autism makes it OK?

    Wakefield has caused enough damage to the autism communities. We have enough to contend with aside from a "researcher" with poor science and even worse ethics.

    Posted by Matt May 25, 10 04:39 PM
  1. The Facts In The Case of Dr. Wakefield, simply told:
    http://tinyurl.com/dr-awakefield

    Posted by Lou May 25, 10 05:09 PM
  1. The guy took blood samples from guests at his kid's birthday party as part of an unapproved, unorganized freelance "study." Grade A jerk no matter what the theory.

    Posted by di May 25, 10 09:39 PM
  1. If this is an opinion piece, it should be on the op-ed page. If it's an article about Andrew Wakefield and his career arc as it relates to his wholly discredited autism/vaccine "research", then please do some research yourself and quote reputable sources. The majority of quotes in your article are from Wakefield himself. That's not really helpful in trying to get to the bottom of his 15-year plus track record of dishonesty, conflicts of interest, and complete disregard for research protocols.

    Posted by Cran May 26, 10 02:59 PM
  1. Regardless of Vaccines and GMC actions which I find a disgrace, Wakefield, a MD and a GI specialist did observe bowel entercolitis in autistic children. This observations were supported with well know specialists. So were all Drs fake?

    No, I do not think so? There is much disgrace by medical agencies here.

    Posted by Ray June 11, 10 12:54 AM
  1. Unless you have personally watched your child deteriorate within days after the MMR vaccine, then keep quite! Your opinion means nothing to the thousands of parents each year who watch their children develop this disease after being vaccinated. I watched my son developmentally go down the toilet just after his vaccinations. DON"T TELL ME THERE IS NOT LINK! So what his study wasn't conducted properly. There are so many poor studies in the literature these days that I who knows what to believe. One of you mentioned conflict of interest......OK listen to these CONFLICTS OF INTEREST. Paul Offit, form UPENN, who's studies claim to show now link between Autism and vaccines. Well, Mr. Offit, designed the vaccine against Rotavirus, which kills thousands if children in infancy in underdeveloped countries. It was pulled in the US because of several fatalities it caused (It's not safe). But he is still making millions of it from other countries. This man would stand to lose millions if vaccines are associated with Autism. But thats not a conflict of interest right? Also, The Vice-CEO of Glaxo-SmithKline (they make the MMR vaccine), was on the Brittish medical Council that took Dr. Wakefields license away. Hmmmmm. Can you imagine how much $$ he would have lost if there was a correlation. THINK PEOPLE. Do your research. The rate of Autism today is 1 in 90. In 1980 it was 1 in 10,000. We give children triple the vaccines today. You make the call. But my $$ is one vaccines and environmental triggers.

    Posted by Jason Jensen August 7, 10 07:59 PM
  1. Its painful to read the comments on this page. It depressing to see the level of closed mindedness, and lack of comprehension the pro-vaccine supporters show. They describe events and make statements that have never happened. They ignore that Wakefields findings of genetically identified, vaccine strain measles are thriving in the bodies of the majority of autistic children studied. If measles are so feared as to vaccinated against them, why no concern for the autistic children who's bodies now harbour them? Why no concern why they are there? Why no concern what this feared virus is doing to them? No, instead you offer off the top of your head opinions as though they are facts. Do some real research fools.

    Posted by Ross Coe September 1, 10 02:18 PM
  1. Thank you for publishing this.
    I don't have all the answers yet, but I do love my little child with all my heart and want to protect him as best I can. So he has had some vaccines and skipped others.Thanks for giving this article a fair play.I am disgusted and furious and tend to believe there is something to Dr Wakefield and others suspicions by the magnitude of trying to silence them and take away his license. If all is in order, then there should be no suppression of his research if real science will vindicate the vaccines eventually. Why do those with the power crush the opposition thought? Are they afraid of something? Its wicked when if there is something to it, innocent wee children are the victims of these adults greed and self, and the families that often fall apart when autism occurs. Its a ridiculous argument for medical personnel to insist on everything being unrelated when mothers who know their children say otherwise. Who in hell do they think they are? Does a medical degree make them know-it-alls who can override a mothers knowledge of her child? Why is a man like Wakefield who has been so persecuted literally still courageously persevering to research something if there isn't a compelling reason? The souls of innocent little children! If Dr Wakefield and all the like-minded doctors out there are wrong, what is the big deal about allowing them to uncover what they are after if nothing will turn up? Wickedness knows no bounds, but neither does a mothers love. Thanks for your courage and fairness on giving this some platform. God bless

    Posted by Julie September 7, 10 08:21 AM
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about the author

Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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