It may have come 12 years too late, but finally Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who sparked worldwide controversy about the safety of the measles mumps rubella (MMR) triple vaccine has been struck off the UK medical register.
The Wakefield investigation was the longest in the history of the GMC, with the disciplinary panel sitting for a total of 148 days over a period of 2 and a half years at an estimated cost of one million pounds. The results of the investigation were revealed in a 143 page report on 28th January 2010, and found that Wakefield showed a “callous disregard” for childrens’ suffering and “abused his position of trust.”
The GMC “..determined that Dr Wakefield’s name should be erased from the medical register…”.
The decision follows an investigation into Wakefield’s behaviour surrounding the 1998 publication of a scientific paper in The Lancet journal, linking the triple MMR vaccine with gastrointestinal disorders and autism. Although the study itself did not demonstrate the MMR vaccine caused autism, Dr Wakefield urged caution and advised parents to get single injections against measles, mumps and rubella at a subsequent press conference.
Wakefield’s statements resonated world wide, scaring many parents away from vaccinating their children and firmly cementing the anti-vaccination movement. The resulting drop in vaccine compliance, spurred on by a complicit media, continues to contribute to outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases such as measles, mumps and whooping cough.
Wakefield was found to have brought the medical profession “into disrepute” after he took blood samples for the study from children attending his son’s birthday party in return for 5 pounds “reward”. He later laughed and joked at a conference about the children fainting and vomiting.
(It’s unbelievable that Wakefield would expect this method of collecting samples for a study to be ethical and above board. He is either completely clueless when it comes to the strict procedures instructed by ethics committees or he’s a completely incompetent researcher. Or perhaps his ego got in the way).
In addition Wakefield conducted unnecessary, painful and intrusive diagnostic treatments on children, including colonoscopies and spinal taps, procedures for which he did not have ethics approval to undertake.
In further investigations, Sunday Times journalist Brian Deer revealed that Wakefield did not disclose serious financial conflicts of interest. Deer provided evidence that Wakefield was paid thousands of pounds by lawyers seeking a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Wakefield also had a patent pending on his own single measles vaccine, similar to the one he urged parents to seek out at the press conference following the publishing of the paper.
In 2004, ten of the thirteen authors on the Lancet paper withdrew their names from the publication stating; “We wish to make it clear that in this paper no causal link established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient. However the possibility of such a link was raised and consequent events have had major implications for public health.”
It took a further six years before the editor of the Lancet, Richard Horton, retracted the paper, which effectively means it is now scratched from the scientific record. Another Wakefield paper which was accepted for publication in the journal NeuroToxicology was also subsequently withdrawn. This study attempted to show a link between thimerosal and impaired neurological development and was nick-named “14 monkeys”.
Wakefield relocated to the US in 2005, where he established and was director of the alternative medicine clinic for children with autism spectrum disorders, known as Thoughtful House. The clinic has come under fire for using questionable treatments such a chelation, a scientifically unproven therapy for autism. He was pressured into resigning his position following the GMC findings in January. (Interestingly, the “Founders” tab on their website is broken, and there is no mention of Wakefield anywhere that I can find. Wakefield has been effectively erased from their records).
Despite recent events, the anti-vaccination movement continue to rally around their “poster boy”. Wakefields’ supporters called the findings “unjust”, a “smear campaign” and “a sad day for our children.” Generation Rescue, a zealous anti-vaccination group in the US, (publicly represented by Jenny McCarthy), issued a statement of support following the GMC findings in January;
“Dr. Andrew Wakefield is perhaps this debate’s greatest hero. He’s a doctor who has held onto the truth, unbowed, through pressure that would break most mortals. Dr. Wakefield’s influence in saving other children from the fate that befell so many children is incalculable.”
Comments left on the Age of Autism website were supporting calls for Wakefield to be knighted. How people can support such a fraudulent and discredited man is completely beyond me.
So let’s summarise the chain of events that led to Wakefield getting struck off
• Wakefield was getting paid by lawyers putting together a class action suit against the manufacturers of MMR for 2 years prior to the publication of the Lancet paper.
• He called for parents to seek out a single vaccine for measles – he had a patent on his own single measles virus.
• The PCR data was found to have come from contaminated samples and could not be independently confirmed.
• No conflicts of interest were declared when the paper was submitted.
• He did not have ethics approval for some of the studies on children.
For such a small study (12 children) that did not even examine a vaccines/autism link, it is incredible to think that it had such a large impact on public health. But of course the blame does not solely lie with Wakefield. The media were highly complicit in spreading the fear about the MMR vaccine. And the result of their misinformation was MMR vaccination rates in the UK fell from over 90% to below 80%. And although the anti-vaccine movement was well and truly active at this stage, it must be acknowledged that this boosted their cause.
Even after 10 of the 12 authors removed their names from the paper in 2004 for “public health” reasons, Brian Deer exposed the conflicts of interest and fraudulent practices, the Lancet retracted the paper completely in 2010, rapidly followed by NeuroToxicology doing the same, the GMC called Wakefield dishonest and irresponsible, he got shafted from the woo-fest that is Thoughtful House, he was stripped of his license, people continue to rally around him.
No respectable medical journals are gonna touch him again. Although he is on the editorial board of the quack-fest that is Medical Veritas, The Journal of Medical Truth, along with other prestigious anti-vaxers such as Veira Shreibner. Actually itr seems quite a shame really. If you search PubMed for AJ Wakefield, you get 15 reviews and 112 other papers. He was a prolific publisher, especially for a clinician, but it matters not anymore.
Recently he sat down to be interviewed by Mercola in a five part series on YouTube.
Although clearly Wakefield knew what was coming – I mean he wrote it in his book, which was published weeks ago, and entitled “Callous disregard”, that he lost his medical license. Harriet Hall has had the stomach to read the book, you can read her blog about it here.
Speaking prior to the GMC hearing on May 24, Wakefield told the BBC he was not responsible for the resurgence in measles. He has also said he categorically denies suggestions that he had acted dishonestly, or against the best interests of children.
He did not attend the GMC hearing in London, rather choosing to appear on the Today Show in New York City where he was interviewed by Matt Lauer. The interview is a clear illustration of him now believing the rheteoric, as he repeatedly insists that his Lancet findings been repeated in five different countries and that there is a link between vaccines and autism. He also tells Lauer the GMC decision is a PR exercise designed to ruin him.
Despite a flurry of research spurred on by Wakefield’s 1998 study, no link between vaccines and autism has been found and Wakefield’s original findings have not been reliably replicated.
Speaking at an anti-vaccine rally in Washington on Wednesday, Wakefield said he plans to set up a virtual university where he will design studies and recruit researchers to carry out the work.
Wakefield’s colleague, Professor Walker Smith, a senior author on the study has also been struck off the UK medical register. The other doctor under investigation, Professor Simon Murch was found not guilty of professional misconduct.
Smith and Wakefield have 28 days to appeal the decision. Wakefield has indicated that he planned to do so.
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