Monday, January 17, Dr. Andrew Wakefield appeared on Good Morning America with host George Stephanopoulos. HERE It was a major event for parents in the autism community who hoped that Dr. Wakefield would be allowed to present a defense against the charges made by Brian Deer and the British Medical Journal. Sadly, that was not to be.
(See transcript of the interview:HERE)
It was clear from the beginning that Stephanopoulos had his own agenda and it didn’t involve equal time for Dr. Wakefield. This is something we’re used to in the autism community, but it was especially obvious in the GMA interview.
As Dr. Wakefield told me:
"Stephanopoulos had the American people believe that he had read Callous Disregard, and that he had done so cover-to-cover. One only has to read yesterday's MedScape article to confirm this. His questions and his demeanor lead me to believe that, in fact, this was not the case. I suspect that as the truth behind this issue emerges, as it will, he and others may come to regret being part of the witch hunt. Their attention should be on the real problems of autism and lack of evidence for vaccine safety."
Stephanopoulos made sure we all understood how ABC felt; we were informed at the start that Dr. Wakefield's work has been discredited and that the British Medical Journal found his claims to be fraudulent based on the word of Brian Deer. As expected, Seth Mnookin, Brian Deer, Richard Besser, and Paul Offit were in opposition to Dr. Wakefield. Offit was cited only as the author of "Deadly Choices," without any mention of the millions of dollars he's personally made with his rotavirus vaccine.
It also wasn't surprising to hear from parents who'd been worried about a link to autism and who didn't vaccinate with Hib because of it. (It should be pointed out that Hib is a vaccine that Dr. Wakefield has never mentioned.) The father gave his reaction to the news about the BMJ charges: "It's been a fraud and it's a conscious effort to mislead people."
Actually, after watching the video clips put out by ABC News, the fact is that its reporting on this issue is just that, "a conscious effort to mislead people."
Dr. Wakefield tried time after time to get Stephanopoulos to understand that as a gastroenterologist, his focus was on the bowel disease that he was finding in children who'd regressed after the MMR. These were healthy kids who become physically sick. They developed chronic diarrhea, constipation, food allergies, and encephalitis. They regressed into autism. Are we to believe that it's all one huge coincidence that normal kids suddenly lose learned skills, become autistic, and develop bowel disease all at the same time?
Several things emerged as the interview progressed. First of all, it was never acknowledged that Dr. Wakefield is a gastroenterologist. He was described merely as a "British researcher.”
In the ABC story online, there was only one reference to bowel problems. ONE.
“Authors of the editorial published nearly two weeks ago in the British Medical Journal confirmed previous suggestions that Wakefield skewed patients' medical records to support his hypothesis that the widely-used measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) combination vaccine was causing autism and irritable bowel disease.”
This was ABC's very conscious effort to mislead people. We didn’t get to hear from anyone who backed Dr. Wakefield. Stephanopoulos seemed intent only on accusing Wakefield of falsely linking vaccines and autism and he showed no interest in the health histories of his patients.
To make this fair and balanced, why didn’t GMA interview Dr. Jon Poling, father of Hannah Poling? Health and Human Services conceded the claim that the nine vaccinations she received in a single doctor’s visit caused her regression into autism. Why wasn’t Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the National Institutes of Health, included? She could have said that she doesn’t believe the studies have been done that would disprove a link.
Why didn’t Stephanopoulos have even one of the 12 Lancet parents on the show? This is really critical. The whole issue here swirls around the medical histories of these children and the charge that Dr. Wakefield falsified records
What would have happened if George Stephanopoulos had included one of the Lancet parents from this video? http://www.viddler.com/explore/ziggy/videos/1/
During the course of the interview on GMA, Stephanopoulos said to Dr. Wakefield, “I read your book.” In truth, as he repeated everything that Brian Deer wrote about in the BMJ, it became glaringly evident he couldn’t have read Callous Disregard. (Or if he did, he blatantly disregarded everything Andrew Wakefield wrote about.)
In Callous Disregard, Dr. Wakefield gave detailed descriptions of each of the 12 children who were the subject of the Lancet article. He made it clear that they became patients at the Royal Free Hospital when parents sought help for their children’s bowel disease. It was not because they were referred to him by lawyers.
Dr. Wakefield meticulously went over the charges made by the General Medical Council, explaining how they were not true, yet Stephanopoulos never brought up anything from the book.
If he’d truly read Callous Disregard, Stephanopoulos would also have known that Dr. Wakefield never claimed that his paper in the Lancet was about a study proving a link between vaccines and anything. It was about a novel bowel problem in autistic children, and he thought the medical community would be interested in the questions he was asking.
Dr. Wakefield devoted a whole chapter to Brian Deer and his claims. He quoted the numerous charges that Deer had made about him and his work in print and explained how each one was false. He especially addressed the claim that he had fixed data on autism or that he had recruited and treated these children for litigation purposes.
Stephanopoulos never mentioned any of the disturbing things Dr. Wakefield included in his book:
The British government knowingly licensed an unsafe vaccine.
They failed to warn parents about possible life-threatening side effects.
They intentionally had only passive surveillance for adverse events.
They secretly indemnified the vaccine maker.
They used false and misleading information to promote the vaccine.
Corruption, collusion, and cover-up, three things we usually assign to the actions of our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are also true for the British government. Dr. Wakefield wrote, “Children were the experimental marketplace.” None of this was talked about on GMA and Dr. Wakefield was never allowed the chance to bring any of it up.
We didn’t hear about the inside source cited in the book (coincidentally named "George") either, yet he's a big part of the story. He's a doctor and a health official, and for Andrew Wakefield, he was the source for a lot of vital information on the measles vaccine trials.
Newsmen like Stephanopoulos never acknowledge that the medical community has everything at stake in this. They pretend that it’s all just about the science and all the science says Dr. Wakefield is wrong.
Dr. Richard Halvorsen, another British physician, recently pointed this out when he said,
“We have to take a step back and wonder what is really going on here. To go to such extreme-- and desperate lengths—to annihilate Dr. Wakefield (the person, note, not the science) some people must be very afraid, presumably, that parents might actually believe something that is blatantly obvious: that is that all vaccines can cause serious adverse reactions, including autism. By denying what is not only obvious but also supported by a wealth of scientific evidence these obsessive vaccine protagonists risk losing the trust of all parents and destroying the whole vaccine programme, the very thing that they are trying to prevent happening.”
Halvorsen’s commentary sounds a lot like the words of Dr. Peter Fletcher, former Chief Scientific Officer in the UK. In 2006, in the Daily Mail, HERE Dr. Fletcher said,
"There are very powerful people in positions of great authority in Britain and elsewhere who have staked their reputations and careers on the safety of MMR and they are willing to do almost anything to protect themselves."
In Callous Disregard, Dr. Wakefield made the comment, “The evidence revealed collusion at the highest levels of the medical establishment.” (p. 49)
Self-protection is a powerful motivation and this is made clear in the book. “[I]t was the UK government that was (and presumably still is) liable for SKB’s MMR vaccine damage.” (p. 74)
Speaking of his work at the Royal Free Hospital, he wrote, “Ultimately, it took a group of gastroenterologists to recognize the significance of these symptoms, not through some preternatural wisdom, but through the diligent application of their training. A new syndrome was described and the findings replicated around the world. Erasure from the Medical Register is a small price to pay for the privilege of working with affected families.” (p. 162)
The sad truth about what has happened is that many people have failed us. Heath officials failed us when they put other priorities ahead of the health and welfare of our children. The medical community failed us when they calmly looked on as a generation of children was lost to autism and pretended it was acceptable. And finally the press has failed in their responsibility to report the truth. There has been a massive and conscious effort to mislead people.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor of Age of Autism.