25 February 2005
MMR and the doctors - taking us all for dummies

by John Stone


On Friday evening BBC One's 7 o'clock magazine programme ran an item on MMR. Featured in the studio discussion was GP, Dr Sarah Jarvis, who recalled her reaction to the Wakefield Lancet study in 1998:

"Oh absolutely no question about it....you get your child vaccinated. First and foremost, I was a mother, my daughter was one year and one month old when this paper came out and I was SO nervous. I read through all the stuff and then I not only had her vaccinated, I put her to the top of the queue because I knew not only that this was a completely safe vaccine from what I'd read but also that other parents were going to be scared off because of the sensationalist coverage.

"It was tragic, it really was, I SO feel for parents who don't have, like I had, the ability to read through what's going on in there and to understand the facts because that mother was SO right what she said, I read all the headlines were contradictory. There was one man in the country and thirty four thousand nine hundred and ninety nine other doctors saying the opposite - that one man got equal coverage, even more."

I do not know how many adults respond to the Jarvis style - old fashioned, patronising and rather in the mode of Fanny Craddock - but what, of course, she failed to mention, is her own patronage by MMR manufacturer and defendant Sanofi Aventis. The information appears on a pharma sponsored web page but was not thought relevant to a British television audience:

"Dr Jarvis has received payment from sanofi-aventis and Bristol-Myers Squibb for acting as an advisor on editorial boards and for chairing and speaking at conferences." [1]

Mind you, Dr Jarvis is absolutely everywhere:

"Dr Sarah Jarvis writes extensively in the medical and consumer press, and is a regular contributor to Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, Pregnancy and Baby and You magazines. She is the ITN lunchtime news resident doctor and the Radio 2 doctor, appearing on the regular health slot on Jeremy Vine's Radio 2 Monday afternoon show. She also appears regularly on GMTV and Radio 5 live. Sarah has a particular interest in cardiology, and after 12 years on the advisory board of Update and Doctor, is now on the advisory board of the British Journal of Cardiology and the patient services board of Heart UK (the cholesterol charity). She has written extensively on cardiology and the new GMS Contract. She has also been closely involved with the development of integrated care pathways for asthma. Dr Sarah Jarvis has authored A Younger Woman's Diagnose-It-Yourself Guide to Health, Diabetes for Dummies, Pregnancy for Dummies and Children's Health for Dummies." [1]

In 2006 Jarvis appeared in a Sanofi Aventis sponsored session of the National Obesity Forum with fellow television doctor Hilary Jones as chair. In it she took part in a debate opposing the oddly phrased motion "This house believes that the media interference is destructive of the interest of obese people" [2]. It is not recorded which dummy proposed it.

Other doctors whom you may have heard spouting on MMR in the media without disclosing their interests include:-

Dr Miriam Stoppard. Stoppard, who writes for the Daily Mirror, is married to Sir Christopher Hogg, the former chairman of MMR manufacturer and defendant Glaxo SmithKline [3].

Dr Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet. Horton turned on Dr Andrew Wakefield in 2004 for not mentioning his involvement in the MMR litigation although Wakefield disclosed the matter in the Lancet in 1998, shortly after the publication of the controversial paper, but Horton did not disclose that his own boss, the soon to be knighted Crispin Davis, was a non-executive director of MMR defendants Glaxo SmithKline [4].

Dr Evan Harris MP. Dr Harris has received the direct patronage of both Aventis Pasteur and Glaxo, precursors of the MMR defendants as they were in 2004. More recently Harris has enjoyed the patronage of pharma lobby organisation Sense About Science, sponsored in turn by Glaxo SmithKline and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry [5].

Dr Ben Goldacre. Dr Goldacre won the Glaxo SmithKline sponsored Association of British Science Writer's award for the best feature science article of 2003 for his article on MMR 'Never mind the facts', despite Goldacre's own facts being substantially incorrect [6].

Dr Rosemary Leonard. Dr Leonard has sat on committees of the industry sponsored medicines licensing authority, the MHRA, and has done publicity work and been paid by MMR defendants Glaxo SmithKline [7].

Dr Michael Fitzpatrick. Dr Fitzpatrick is a trustee of pharma lobby organisation Sense About Science [8] which is sponsored by Glaxo SmithKline and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry [9].

Prof Lewis Wolpert. Wolpert, Nobel prize winner and author of a vitriolic attack on Andrew Wakefield in the Evening Standard in February 2004, was on the panel of judges for 2000 the Aventis prize for scientific literature, while his book 'Malignant Sadness' was short listed for the prize in 2001 despite the fact it was published early in 1999 [10].

Dr Chris Steele. Resident doctor on ITV's 'This Morning' was the star turn in a Glaxo SmithKline sponsored stop-smoking event in Northern Ireland in 2001 [11].

Dr David Elliman and Dr Helen Bedford. Dr Elliman is often interviewed as an expert on vaccines. In the BMJ Elliman and Bedford (they always collaborate on publications) stated:

"Competing interests: DE and HB have in the past received funding from vaccine manufacturers Wyeth, Aventis Pateur MSD, and Glaxo SmithKline to attend symposiums and conduct research" [12]

The 2005 Commons Select Committee on Health report 'The Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry' warned:

"221. Public relations is particularly important during times of bad publicity, especially when the safety of brands is called into question. Considerable resources are invested into building long-term, sustainable relationships with stakeholders and 'key opinion leaders' and journalists. These relationships are used to promote the use of certain brands and counter concerns relating to safety. Efforts to undermine critical voices in particular were identified, under terms of "issues management". In later evidence, in response to the ISM's memorandum, Pfizer stated that PR is entirely legitimate and can "help to educate and inform". According to the PMCPA, PR activities may include "placing articles in the lay press, TV documentaries, soap operas etc".[186] The following example of a project worksheet shows the marketing campaign process and the targeting of consumers and the press. " [13]

After the publication of Brian Deer's flawed allegations about Andrew Wakefield's non-disclosure in February 2004, the Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson, told the BBC: "Now a darker side of this work has shown through, with the ethical conduct of the research and this is something that has to be looked at". On the same day the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said to ITV: "I hope now that people see the situation is somewhat different from what they were led to believe" [14]. But is not the situation "somewhat different" if the public was being briefed almost entirely by sources close to the defendants in the MMR case.


[1] Biography, Dr Sarah Jarvis

[2] National Obesity Forum Conference 2006

[3] Sir Christopher Hogg, outgoing head of Glaxo and Reuters, faces his last AGM showdown with investors tomorrow, The Observer, Sunday May 16 2004

[4] Fears over growth at Crispin Davisís empire, The Sunday Times, January 11, 2004

[5] Dr Death Evan Harris MP Promotes Forced MMR Vaccination, The One Click Group, 14 February 2008

[6] Ben Goldacre/Journalists: anything to declare?, British Medical Journal, 2007; 335: 480

[7] Seroxat Secrets

[8] Sense About Science, Dr Michael Fitzpatrick

[9] Sense About Science, Donors & Funding Policy

[10] Prof. Lewis Wolpert: "But fraud does not occur", British Medical Journal, 2004; 328: 773

[11] Health Promotion Agency, TV doctor flies in to give advice on how to stop smoking, Press Release 01.11.01

[12] MMR: Science and Fiction. Exploring the Vaccine Crisis; MMR and Autism: What Parents Need to Know, British Medical Journal, 2004;329:1049 (30 October), doi:10.1136/bmj.329.7473.1049

[13] Select Committee on Health Fourth Report, Influence of the industry on key groups

[14] Why cannot Brian Deer address these simple questions?, British Medical Journal, BMJ 2004; 328: 528