See: Smearing of Dr Wakefield
Tried, judged and convicted by Brian Deer....
not to mention the lies.
I don't see any deaths mentioned.
Focus: How a spurious health scare brought an old killer back ---Brian Deer
As health chiefs last week reported the worst outbreaks of measles across
Britain in 20 years, slow progress was being made in bringing to justice the
doctor who sparked the MMR scare.
At the high court in London, lawyers for the General Medical Council (GMC)
gave the first public hearing to disciplinary charges against Andrew
Wakefield, whose scientific paper published eight years ago caused millions
to shun the vaccination for fear that their children might contract autism.
The charges against Wakefield, 50, are some of the most extensive seen.
Timothy Dutton QC told Mr Justice Silberman that the GMC, the body that
regulates doctors, was considering 10 counts of serious professional
They include publishing "inadequately founded" research, obtaining funding
"improperly" and subjecting children to "unnecessary and invasive
investigations" without proper ethical approval.
Early next year these and other charges will be heard by the GMC's fitness
to practise panel. Empowered to strike Wakefield off the medical register,
the hearing is expected to last two months and will be one of the most
high-profile adjudications seen.
Wakefield was not in court last week. Having been shunned by colleagues in
Britain, he runs a business in Austin, Texas, selling surgical tests for
Among the cramped pews and gothic ornamentation of court 10, however, his
presence hung over the proceedings.
The hearing had been called at the GMC's request in an effort to obtain the
court's help in gathering documents. Wakefield has said he has lost vital
documents and destroyed a key paper.
After more than two years of trying, the GMC's frustrated lawyers were
IN February 2004, after a Sunday Times investigation, Wakefield declared
that he would welcome an inquiry as an opportunity to clear his name.
"It has been proposed that my role in this matter be investigated by the
General Medical Council," he said in a statement. "I not only welcome this,
I insist on it."
He may have insisted, but he did not cooperate. His lawyers, financed by the
Medical Protection Society, have fought trench warfare against the GMC.
The GMC's work has been made harder by the legislation that governs
disciplinary proceedings against doctors.
According to the Medical Act of 1983, the council can demand that any person
disclose any document "except the practitioner in respect of whom the
information or document is sought".
In other words, Wakefield cannot be made to hand over his papers.
Field Fisher Waterhouse, the GMC's lawyers, have been driven close to
despair. Unable to secure the facts from Wakefield, they last week took the
course of acting against the solicitors who - as The Sunday Times
discovered - hired him to make the case against the vaccine before he
triggered the MMR scare.
In the event the solicitors agreed to the request after the judge ordered
the hearing into secret session. Dates and documents would be handed over
within a month, they agreed, bringing the hearing of Wakefield's case a step
It's a case in which, Wakefield's critics say, closure is desperately
"We need to get this over with," said a close observer last week. "We've got
to stop the endless re-running of a story that isn't a story. Every time
there is something like the GMC mentioned, journalists keep talking about
the link between MMR and autism, and there isn't one."
As health chiefs revealed last week, Britain is now in the grip of what has
every sign of becoming a measles epidemic. In March the first child in 14
years was killed by the virus. Clusters of infections, such as in Surrey and
Yorkshire, have propelled the number of confirmed cases this year to 449,
the largest number since the MMR jab was introduced in 1988.
"People think measles is a trivial disease, but it is not," said a spokesman
for the Health Protection Agency. "Our message to parents is to get their
children vaccinated to reduce the risk."
The return of what was once a common disease is almost entirely the result
of the MMR scare, say Wakefield's critics.
As Dutton told the court last week, a paper published by the former gut
surgeon in The Lancet medical journal in February 1998 was the trigger for
all that followed. In its outward appearance the paper was scientific. It
claimed that Wakefield and his team had happened upon a link between the MMR
jab - the combined inoculation against measles, mumps and rubella - and the
onset of autism in 12 children who had passed through the hospital.
But unknown to the Lancet, the medical profession or the public at the time,
the parents of these children were rather special: in 11 of the 12 cases
they were suing the manufacturers of MMR - and Wakefield was being paid by a
firm of solicitors to help them.
As Dutton told the court, this hidden conflict of interest places a major
question mark over the "scientific validity" of the paper and Wakefield's
professionalism in having failed to disclose it.
Yet from 1998, when Wakefield launched his scare at a press conference at
the Royal Free hospital, in north London, his version of the facts ran
almost unchallenged for the next six years.
The story, as told by Wakefield, was of nagging clinical and scientific
evidence pointing to a link between the jab and autism. The Daily Mail,
Daily Telegraph and the magazine Private Eye gave him full backing.
Wakefield himself played the role of a scientific maverick. Some admirers
compared him with Galileo.
Then in February 2004 his reputation was shattered after an exposure by this
It revealed that Wakefield had been paid by solicitors attempting to sue the
vaccine's manufacturers - and that some of the children's parents were also
litigants, with an understandable axe to grind.
Following these revelations, the prime minister made a statement of support
for MMR. "I hope, now that people see that the situation is somewhat
different to what they were led to believe, they will have the triple jab
because it is important to do it," Tony Blair said.
The Lancet, which published the original claims, did an abrupt about-turn
and described the Wakefield research as "fatally flawed". Most of his
co-authors retracted their claims. Far from discovering an MMR-autism link,
it seemed that Wakefield had created one.
"There was never one shred of verified evidence in his work," said Brent
Taylor, head of child health at the Royal Free's medical school, and a noted
researcher on vaccine safety. "There was absolutely no basis whatsoever for
Later that year Wakefield took another tumble as his business ambitions
became known. A Channel 4 Dispatches inquiry revealed patent applications,
lodged months in advance of The Lancet paper, on an array of products,
including Wakefield's own vaccine. There were also testing kits and
treatments - possibly what he called "a complete cure" - for autism.
New scientific findings also took their toll of Wakefield's position. None
but his collaborators confirmed his claims. Study after study - both
epidemiological and virological - reported that they could find no evidence
to link the MMR vaccine with autism.
Researchers, meanwhile, gave up even bothering to debate Wakefield's claims.
The influential Oxford-based Cochrane Collaboration reviewed all relevant
scientific papers last October and found "no credible evidence of an
involvement of MMR".
Parents, too, began turning their backs. "Public confidence in the MMR is
returning," said Mary Ramsay of the Health Protection Agency last week.
"Coverage among two-year-olds in June 2005 was 83% - up from 78.9% in
TO KEEP measles under control, by so-called herd protection, the vaccination
rate needs to be 92%.
"What makes measles so difficult to stamp out is the extraordinary
infectivity of the virus," said Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London.
"Each person who catches the disease will spread it, on average, to another
15-20 people in an unvaccinated population."
One couple for whom these are no dry statistics are Clare and Paul Hooper
from Nottingham. Their youngest daughter Olivia caught measles when she was
10 months old.
"Olivia caught measles at nursery before she could have the vaccination. It
was a very stressful experience. My husband and I are both doctors and are
very aware of the risks that come with measles. It can have all kinds of
complications including deafness and brain infection.
"You could say it's selfish of some parents not to immunise their children
because they are putting younger children like Olivia at risk . . .
undoubtedly Wakefield's research led to many parents deciding not to
Experts believe the only way forward is for the Wakefield case to be heard -
and heard fast.
Despite his personal difficulties, however, sections of the media appear
determined to continue campaigns to support him, no matter what the
Last month the Daily Mail launched a fresh attack on the vaccine, claiming
that "new American research" had found a possible MMR-autism link and
"appears to confirm" Wakefield's findings.
This much-hyped but unpublished research was no more than a poster on a
wall, however. It was presented at a Canadian autism conference by Steve
Walker, an American university lecturer who specialises in researching the
effects of alcohol.
The poster highlighted what was said to be evidence of measles fragments,
which experts say might be found harmlessly in almost anybody along with
genetic remnants of countless other viruses.
Some observers now believe the MMR debate has moved from the realm of
science to pseudo-religion and that, whatever the GMC finds, the anti-MMR
campaign will continue.
"The interesting thing to me is that you can line up the chief medical
officer and the chief nursing officer, the presidents of the royal colleges,
and it makes no difference," said Richard Smith, a former editor of the
British Medical Journal.
"If you think vaccination policy is a conspiracy, then it only makes you
more sure that it's a conspiracy." The man himself is unrepentant, according
to his solicitors, RadcliffesLeBrasseur. "Andrew Wakefield has always and
continues to strongly contest any allegation of wrongdoing," they said in a
"He is satisfied that he has acted properly and in good faith at all times.
Dr Wakefield has always stated that he is keen to co-operate with a properly
convened inquiry into these matters, but cannot comment upon them whilst an
investigation is ongoing."
COUNTDOWN TO A CRISIS
October 1988 MMR triple vaccine starts in UK after use in America since 1971
February 1996 A solicitor, Richard Barr, hires Andrew Wakefield to support a
legal attack on MMR jab makers. Not publicly disclosed
June 1996 Wakefield and Barr submit proposals to Legal Aid Board to fund
research project to show a link between MMR and autism. Not disclosed
July 1996 First autistic child admitted to Royal Free hospital for research
project. Of the 12 in the study, 11 will turn out to be litigants
June 1997 Wakefield files for patent on own "safer" single measles jab and
for products to treat autism. Not publicly disclosed
February 1998 The Lancet publishes paper proposing link between MMR and
autism. Wakefield makes no disclosure of his interests
January 2001 Daily Mail and other newspapers launch campaigns backing
Wakefield after he publishes a "review" of his evidence and calls for single
January 2003 Vaccination among two-year-olds falls to 78.9%, below 92%
needed to protect the population
February 2004 The Sunday Times reveals Wakefield's legal funding and
children's litigant status
February 2004 Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, describes original paper
as "fatally flawed" and apologises for publishing it
March 2004 Ten of the 1998 Lancet paper's 13 authors, excluding Wakefield,
retract claim of possible MMR-autism link
November 2004 Channel 4 probe reveals Wakefield's patent claims and
June 2005 Vaccine uptake rises to 83%
June 2006 GMC confirms Wakefield disciplinary hearing in early 2007