[More from the Wakefield Greek Chorus. Private Eye sold out long ago, and Hislop took the piss out of the Sunday Times when it turned its insight team into the style section! And the letters just rub it in.]
MMR & THE GMC Wakefield verdict
Dr Phil Hammond, (Private Eye) 5 Feb-18 Feb 2010
LAST week the General Medical Council threw the entire book - all 100 pages of charges - at three of the team from London's Royal Free Hospital, which first suggested in 1998 the possibility of a link between the MMR jab and a sub-set of autistic children with gut disease.
Dr Andrew Wakefield, Professor John Walker-Smith and Professor Simon Murch were all found guilty of carrying out unethical research in the course of which some children were put through unnecessary tests and procedures.
Most criticism was reserved for Wakefield, who was "dishonest" and "irresponsible" and - in the case of taking blood at a children's party - acting with "callous disregard" and "bringing the medical profession into disrepute". He was also severely criticised for not disclosing a commercial conflict of interest.
Although the GMC said the hearing was not about vaccination and autism, it is fairly clear that the two and half years of disciplinary proceedings were to bring the MMR debate to a conclusion. The three doctors were to some degree being accused (and found guilty) of causing a public health scare which led to a fall in vaccination rates, so damaging "herd immunity", particularly in relation to measles.
With the severity and tone of the findings against them, it is hard to see how they will escape being struck off when they come back before the GMC in a few weeks' time to argue about whether their actions amount to serious professional misconduct.
All three deny the allegations and are expected to appeal. Several parents of the children who featured in the team's original research paper, which was at the centre of the GMC case, stormed out of the hearing in angry protest at the findings- particularly the suggestion that their children's tests were not clinically necessary. Others were in tears. No parent or guardian ever complained about care or treatment and all consented to the tests and procedures. They say they would have told the GMC that the treatment they received at the hospital helped their children's symptoms- but they were never called to testify.
None of this debate about conduct, however, changes the fact that no subsequent research has supported Wakefield's thesis of a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Nor does it change the fact that despite previous attempts to justify the Eye's coverage at the time, some readers are still deeply critical of the magazine's reporting of the MMR debate between 2001 and 2007, when we wrote about the concerns of Wakefield, the families and their lawyers, and endorsed calls for more research (see Letters, below).
MMR: You write...
I trust you will be publicising the outcomes of the GMC proceedings given your less than glorious history of publicising Dr Wakefield's work.
How about promoting MMR uptake for a while to appease the gods?
WILL ERRINGTON (DR), Sydney, NSW.
Dr. Andrew Wakefield's research into the link between MMR and autism has been discredited and shown to be fundamentally flawed. Now that the GMC has ruled that he had acted dishonestly and irresponsibly, will you be commenting on the misinformation and hysteria which has dominated reporting of the MMR issue in recent years? If so, will your organ's involvement in that be reported?
JIM REID, Via email.
Employing the same 20:20 hindsight that the meejah normally reserves exclusively for itself in passing judgement on other's failings, I would now like to demand a public inquiry into the Eye's largely uncritical and unquestioning adherence to the Andrew Wakefield school of junk science and bunkum passing itself off as serious medical research. The public has a right to be told! And heads, from the most senior level (Lord Gnome himself) should roll.
Oh hang on, what on earth am I saying? Of course, the whole point of the 20:20 rule is that it is the exclusive preserve of the meejah — which walks on water, brings universal enlightenment to all that it touches and is otherwise entirely above and beyond reproach in almost every conceivable respect. So that s alright then. After all, it was only the lives of and potential brain damage to young children that was (and remains) at stake by parents believing inter alia the Eye s erroneous, conspiracy laden drivel about MMR causing them not to have their kids immunised. How do you live with yourselves?
Yours sincerely, ANTHONY DUNN, London NW2.