By Anne Dachel
Several months ago, I interviewed British doctor Richard Halvorsen concerning the heated vaccine-autism controversy. Dr. Halvorsen had gained a fair amount of attention in the British press. I contacted him recently to get his views on the allegations of fraud against Dr. Andrew Wakefield. He minced no words.
“The latest allegations against Dr Andrew Wakefield are quite extraordinary. It seems that certain factions of the medical establishment are intent on hounding him to the grave.
The accusations of journalist Brian Deer make no sense at all. They appear to centre around the fact that elements of the hospital medical records, as reported in the Lancet 1998 paper, are at odds with other aspects of the children's medical records, mainly those of the children's General Practitioners (GPs). This is hardly surprising as the hospital doctors who recorded the children's medical history (which was not, in any case, done by Dr Wakefield) would not have had access to the GPs' medical notes. Medical histories, taken at different times by different healthcare professionals will inevitably have some inconsistencies.
What is so disturbing is that the editor of the BMJ, who should have known better, appears to have fallen for Deer's spurious arguments hook, line and sinker.
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. 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.”
Dr. Halvorsen has been telling the truth, fearlessly, for quite some time.
In October, 2009, the Telegraph in the UK ran the story, "I'm not opposed to jabs but there are serious worries" by Dr. Halvorsen. (HERE) He talked about the pressure put on parents not to question vaccines and the harsh tactics employed by the government. Furthermore, he said, “This climate of fear is ruthlessly exploited by the big pharmaceutical companies, which see vast profits in exaggerated health concerns.”
Halvorsen cited the sudden death of a young schoolgirl after receiving the cervical cancer vaccine as an example of a vaccine program gone wrong. While he said he’s not opposed to vaccinations, he does believe that vaccine efficacy claims are overdone and side effects are not being recognized. He referred to the plan to mass vaccinate for the swine flu as “madness.”
“As a doctor, I have been concerned for some time about this issue. I should stress that I am not in any way opposed to vaccinations.
“Indeed I run an immunisation clinic which offers a wide range of vaccines as a protection against various diseases. But I am increasingly disturbed by the lack of any debate either about long-term vaccine safety or about the excessive influence of commercial interests.
“Contrary to what Government officials and pharmaceutical giants pretend, the health of future generations could be compromised if we are not allowed to question this official fixation with mass vaccination.
“In the research for my recent book on this subject, I discovered that not only are inoculations being introduced with less and less research on their safety, but, just as worryingly, they are being promoted for diseases which do not represent a widespread danger to the public.”
Back in July, 2009, Halvorsen had a piece in the UK Times (HERE) where he also called the H1N1 vaccination plan “madness.”
He didn’t think the outbreak of H1N1 was a major health threat and he worried that the vaccine wasn’t properly tested for side effects. He also questioned its effectiveness.
“Perhaps the biggest concern is the speed at which the vaccine is being rushed out. Research for my book, The Truth about Vaccines, taught me how vaccines are increasingly being released on to the market with little testing of either safety or effectiveness, against infections that are rarely the threat that the Department of Health or pharmaceutical companies (who are finding the vaccine business an increasingly lucrative market) claim.”
As to the safety of the MMR, Dr. Halvorsen shares many of the same concerns as Andrew Wakefield. This is what was said in a 2007 story in the Daily Mail (HERE) in Britain, The truth about MMR.
“[Far from there being solid evidence of the vaccine's safety, Dr Halvorsen found that the safety trials on MMR followed up children for only three weeks so could not possibly detect side effects that appeared later.
“Crucially, the MMR was the first ever vaccination to use three live viruses.
“Experts including Dr Halvorsen believe that in children with an impaired immune system (which may not be apparent), this could cause an abnormal immune reaction, damaging the gut and allowing harmful chemicals to penetrate the gut wall into the bloodstream.
“From there, they may attack the brain. Giving the vaccines singly, with a significant time period between (Dr Halvorsen recommends six months) is thought to reduce the risk in these susceptible children.
“So there is no evidence of harm, but neither is there evidence of safety. Both Dr Wakefield and Dr Halvorsen are among a group of doctors who, for several years, have called in vain for a large-scale prospective trial over several years, following similar groups of children, who have been immunised either with the triple vaccine or with single vaccines.
“Last year, Dr Peter Fletcher, formerly Chief Scientific Officer at the Department of Health, accused the government of 'utterly inexplicable complacency' over MMR. (HERE) “As an expert witness for parents who believe their children were vaccine-damaged, Dr Fletcher studied thousands of documents.
“He has seen 'a steady accumulation of evidence' from scientists worldwide that the triple jab is causing brain damage in certain children.
“Questioning the government's stance has become 'heretical', according to Dr Halvorsen.”
All of this makes it clear that Richard Halvorsen shares many of the same concerns that Dr. Wakefield has when it comes to vaccine safety, specifically the safety of the MMR.
Halvorsen talked about his book, The Truth about Vaccines, and especially about the subtitle, How we are being used as guinea pigs without our consent.(HERE) “[It] is admittedly rather controversial and was chosen by my publisher. Nevertheless, it accurately describes how vaccines are, with increasing frequency, being introduced on a mass scale with insufficient testing to ensure their safety. The introduction of the meningitis C vaccine into the UK in 1999 comes particularly to mind. This vaccine was introduced in a great rush with appallingly little safety testing and no proof whatsoever that it actually worked. The lack of research meant that a booster dose soon had to be added when it became clear that the effectiveness of three doses given in infancy wore off within a year. The MMR was also introduced with totally insufficient safety testing as described in Andrew Wakefield's and Scott Montgomery's paper Through a Glass Darkly.”
When I interviewed him last summer, he described the reaction of the British medical establishment and the Dept of Health to his book as “antagonistic.” He did say, “I regularly come across doctors and other health professionals who share my concerns and are supportive of my stance. Indeed, I regularly see doctors and other health professionals with their babies in my children's immunisation clinic, BabyJabs.” (www.babyjabs.com)
Dr. Halvorsen himself runs a different kind of private practice in Britain. He described it to me.
“This service is unique in the UK and possibly unique in the world. It offers parents an informed choice of which vaccines they wish to give their child and how they wish them to be given; that is, whether they wish the vaccines to be started later, given with more space between them, less at any one time or even omitting some vaccines altogether. This service is very popular with parents but, because of the cost of importing many of the vaccines we offer, is unfortunately prohibitively expensive for many parents. This service is not offered by other doctors because it challenges the government's vaccine policy which is to give all children exactly the same vaccines at exactly the same ages, irrespective of the child's personal health or any family history of immune related or allergic diseases. Also you have to bear in mind that the vast majority of doctors in the UK work for the publicly funded National Health Service and are bound to follow government directives.
“I hear time and time again stories from parents, often intelligent and knowledgeable, who have been patronised and sometimes bullied by doctors over their concerns about vaccinating their child in the manner recommended. Though vaccination is ostensibly voluntary in the UK, a great deal of pressure is put on parents by health professionals in order to persuade them to comply with the NHS immunisation schedule. It is often argued that all that is needed is for these parents to be given the correct information and that they would then understand the need to immunise their children in the way suggested. However I find it most interesting that research repeatedly shows that those parents who have most concerns about vaccination schedules are those who are higher educated and in higher professional jobs, including working as health professionals. This evidence flies in the face of those who argue that they only need to get their message across for vaccination uptake to improve.
“Vaccines are being added to immunisation schedules around the world at an increasingly fast rate and it is likely that more will be introduced to the already congested childhood schedules in the near future.”
As to a link between vaccines and autism, Halvorsen said, “I am in little doubt that one of those environmental causes is immunisation; indeed that has been confirmed by the Hannah Poling ruling in the USA. It is this link between vaccines and autism that has so concerned public health doctors, because if this is ever officially accepted then they fear that vaccination rates will plummet. I suspect that it is in an attempt to avoid this link between vaccines and autism that is contributing to governments' unwillingness to acknowledge the scale of the autism problem. However, the sheer numbers of children affected will mean that governments will have to acknowledge the problem before long, but they will do their very best to ensure that the words autism and vaccines never occur in the same sentence.”
Halvorsen agrees with Wakefield. “The advice I give about the MMR vaccine is largely based on the research undertaken by Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues and the advice he gave as a result of his research.”
“I left the NHS last year and am now able to devote more of my time to my dedicated children's immunisation service, BabyJabs, which offers parents an informed choice on whether or how to immunise their child. I do believe that vaccines offer benefits; however I am aware that these benefits are often exaggerated. I am only too well aware that vaccines can have side effects which can occasionally be serious and that these side effects are downplayed by those promoting vaccination. I am also aware that the seriousness of the illnesses that vaccines are designed to protect are sometimes exaggerated in order to encourage parents to vaccinate their child. I believe that this deceit is fundamentally dishonest and in contradiction to the ethical principle of informed consent. At BabyJabs, and by writing my book, I try to remedy this by offering information, gleaned after much research, that I believe to be honest and truthful. I am of course attacked for being biased and having conflicts of interests which is inevitable when I challenge the established view. Perhaps the most extraordinary accusation leveled against me is that I am 'anti-vaccine' a ridiculous assertion when I run an immunisation clinic!”
After learning all this about him, the burning question I had for Dr. Halvorsen was, Why Wakefield and not him? For merely asking for more research on a link between vaccines and possible side effects, Wakefield has been attacked and demonized. Every kind of allegation has been made against him. How did Richard Halvorsen not merit the same treatment? This is his explanation:
“I have been lucky not to have been attacked by the establishment in the same way that Andrew Wakefield has. However there are other factors apart from luck: Andrew Wakefield worked in a hospital department that received a large amount of research grants from vaccine manufacturing pharmaceutical companies. The hospital he worked in realised that his outspoken views could jeopardise their future source of funding. Andrew Wakefield was also a direct employee at his hospital whereas, as a GP, I have always been self-employed and therefore had the privilege of a certain amount of extra freedom.”
Anne Dachel is Media Editor of Age of Autism