The actual news content in last week’s media firestorm about Dr. Andrew Wakefield didn’t seem to warrant the level of media frenzy it received. Am I wrong or is this old news?
The allegations against Dr. Wakefield are nothing new. The global medical establishment has been making these charges for over a decade. It culminated in the 2010 censure of Dr. Wakefield by the U.K.’s General Medical Council (GMC), the GMC’s removal of his license to practice medicine, and retraction by The Lancet of his 1998 case study series about 12 severely ill children with bowel disease and autism. Wakefield was also tried and convicted in the media and the court of public opinion.
So why the renewed sound and fury? Dr. Wakefield’s treatment at the hands of the mainstream media seems personal and unduly harsh. Is there something else going on?
The British Medical Journal’s (BMJ) editorial last week calling Dr. Andrew Wakefield a fraud is indeed big news, but not for the reasons you might think. This month, the BMJ joins two new books, Dr. Paul Offit’s Deadly Choices and Seth Mnookin’s The Panic Virus in a concert of scathing critiques that malign the character and intentions of Dr. Wakefield.
The big news is the need to visibly slam Dr. Wakefield yet again. The big news is that it is necessary to tell the American public, one more time, that vaccines don’t cause autism. Because, the biggest news of all is that parents aren’t buying it. The American Academy of Pediatrics concedes 1 in 4 parents believe that vaccines may cause autism and a University of Michigan poll reveals that 89% of parents rate vaccines their top pediatric health concern. Parents don’t believe that Wakefield is a fraud. And this makes government, industry, and doctors very nervous.
But all that happened in 2010. What is new that warrants this level of media scrutiny?
The national narrative about vaccine safety is shifting. “Parents versus the science” is giving way to serious inquiry on the part of professionals, scholars, and academic institutions. There is a growing consensus that important unanswered questions must be addressed. The vaccine establishment is paying attention to three developments:
This story isn’t going away.
British freelance journalist Brian Deer says Dr. Wakefield exported his mischief to the United States. Do you agree?
No. It is Deer who has instigated the ruckus. Based on his reporting alone, the GMC initiated its investigation into Dr. Wakefield. It is notable that the GMC’s multi-year prosecution did not include allegations of fraud, presumably because they were not able to make those claims. It was Deer alone, a non-doctor, non-scientist, non-credentialed commentator on medicine who alleged fraud. It’s not clear to us, and increasingly to many others, why the mainstream press persists in covering the reports of a lone reporter who refuses to disclose how he obtained access to the confidential medical records of the twelve children in The Lancet paper. Who gave him this access and why is the media trumpeting his version of the facts? It seems that could be the legitimate “big story.”
This media circus in the U.S. can’t possibly be the work of a single, dodgy journalist operating across the pond, could it?
True enough. For those willing to go back to the chronology of events, the facts speak for themselves.
In clear support of vaccination, and to protect children against measles, mumps, and rubella, Dr. Wakefield suggested that the single measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines were safer than the combination vaccine. Two different combination MMR vaccines had already been withdrawn in the U.K. because they were unsafe. Parents started to follow his advice, continuing to vaccinate their children, but often in single doses. Six months after the 1998 press conference, however, the U.K. National Health Service made the individual vaccines unavailable. Faced with what they perceived to be an untenable option, large numbers of parents stopped vaccinating their children.
When measles outbreaks ensued, Dr. Wakefield was blamed. Accountability has always rested, however, squarely on the shoulders of the U.K. government that made single vaccines unavailable. If anyone is guilty of "exporting mischief," it can be argued that it is the U.K. which is exporting their scapegoating of Dr. Wakefield to the United States.
Sole U.S. manufacturer Merck & Co., Inc. also ceased manufacture of the separate measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines in 2008 to the great chagrin of many American parents. This decision only added to parental doubt about vaccine safety in our country.
Tell us about Vaccine Epidemic. Are established vaccine interests concerned about your book?
Some believe the BMJ-Deer story was released as an offensive strategy to pre-empt worrisome news about vaccine safety that would be difficult to dismiss, including the anticipated release of our book next month. We can’t answer for them, but we hope they will be studying our book and views as we have been studying theirs. The American public wants answers about vaccine safety. The time for shadowboxing in our respective corners is over. Vaccine Epidemic calls for dialogue and engagement. In her quotation for our book cover, Dr. Bernadine Healy, former director of the National Institutes of Health said it best:
There are unanswered questions about vaccine safety. We need studies on vaccinated populations based on various schedules and doses as well as individual patient susceptibilities that we are continuing to learn about. No one should be threatened by the pursuit of this knowledge. Vaccine policy should be the subject of frank and open debate, with no tolerance for bullying. There are no sides—only people concerned for the well-being of our children.
Vaccine Epidemic features the contributions of twenty-five authors—scholars, credentialed experts, and mainstream parents who share their specialized expertise and personal experience. Together, the chapters build a formidable case—through careful examination of the science, law, ethics, business, philosophy, history and more—for the human right to vaccination choice.
How does Vaccine Epidemic address the renewed controversy about vaccine safety?
Vaccine Epidemic includes three chapters, in particular, that directly address issues raised by the BMJ editorial:
These chapters, and 23 others, connect the dots about this long-standing controversy that will not go away. Vaccine Epidemic explains how people concerned about many individual topics in this debate are asking similar questions. These topics include:
What else should we know about your book?
In the marketplace of ideas, the American public is offering its own response to the BMJ editorial. Just hours after releasing our first pre-launch announcement yesterday, Vaccine Epidemic skyrocketed to #1,503 overall and #74 in personal health on Amazon’s Bestsellers rankings HERE. We invite readers to help us sustain the momentum and keep vaccine safety in the news. All book proceeds benefit the Center for Personal Rights, a non-profit think tank and advocacy organization. If you know you want the book, please pre-order today rather than waiting to buy it in the stores.
We hope to see many of you at NYU School of Law in NYC soon for the public and media launch of Vaccine Epidemic. Details to follow. Please follow news and events related to our book at www.vaccineepidemic.com.
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