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News of the Day ... In Perspective

7/23/2007

Doctor who sparked autism fears faces hearing

Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who discovered viral material from the measles vaccine strain in the lymphoid tissue of children with inflammatory bowel disease and autism, faces about 15 weeks of hearings before the General Medical Council in the UK. Wakefield and two colleagues could be barred from medical practice.

After the research findings were published in the Lancet, a worldwide decline in measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccinations occurred, and the number has never recovered to previous levels. [Rates fell from 91.5 percent to 87.4 percent and subsequently to 79.9 percent. According to the World Health Organization, a 95 percent rate is needed to achieve herd immunity (Observer 7/8/07).]

The doctors are accused of ethical violations in the conduct of their research. Wakefield is also charged with advising lawyers representing children claiming to have been harmed by MMR vaccine (Wall Street Journal 7/16/07).

Wakefield has been attacked by the former Health Secretary and by Tony Blair. But some parents see him as the victim of a Department of Health-led plot to discredit him, and the GMC hearing as a show trial designed to suppress an uncomfortable truth

Wakefield, who has been practicing in the U.S. since the furor drove him out of the UK, plans a vigorous defense. He told the Observer: “I’ve done what I've done because my motivation is the suffering of children I’ve seen and the determination of devoted, articulate, rational parents to find out why part of them has been destroyed, why their child has been ruined. Why would I go through this process of professional isolation if it was simply to do with egomania? My alleged egomania doesn’t explain things very well. There’s been no upside for me in having pursued this issue. It's been very difficult.

“As Vaclav Havel once said: ‘Follow the man who seeks the truth; run from the man who has found it.’ I can’t tell you that we know that the MMR vaccine causes autism. But the Department of Health can tell you with 100 per cent certainty that it doesn’t, and they believe that, and that concerns me greatly” (Observer 7/8/07).

In Japan, the MMR was made mandatory in 1989 but withdrawn in 1993 after doctors warned of side effects. There were more than 2,000 claims that the vaccine had caused meningitis or encephalitis, and even caused deaths. Families of children who died received £80,000 compensation (ibid.).

An as-yet-unpublished study shows that autism or autism spectrum disorder may afflict as many as one in 58 children, a rate far higher than previously stated. Two of the authors think the figure may be linked to MMR vaccine, but the other five reject that view (Observer 7/8/07).

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