Elizabeth Hart has provided me with a transcript of newsreel footage by the New York Times full of lies and distortions, and using old footage Seth Mnookin and Andrew Wakefield (tinted to make him look scary). To be clear, despite the denials and heavy talk the mainstream media - which is completely dependent on advertising revenue from the pharmaceutical industry - is disguising the fact that the United States government has already conceded that vaccines cause autism, and it does not remotely hinge upon the reputation of Andrew Wakefield. Here is Centers for Disease Control director, Julie Gerberding, on CNN explaining the Hannah Poling settlement, before she took the revolving door to become head of Merck’s vaccine division:
Now, we all know that vaccines can occasionally cause fevers in kids. So if a child was immunized, got a fever, had other complications from the vaccines. And if you’re predisposed with the mitochondrial disorder, it can certainly set off some damage. Some of the symptoms can be symptoms that have characteristics of autism.
The government has never compensated, nor has it ever been ordered to compensate, any case based on a determination that autism was actually caused by vaccines. We have compensated cases in which children exhibited an encephalopathy, or general brain disease. Encephalopathy may be accompanied by a medical progression of an array of symptoms including autistic behavior, autism, or seizures.
Beyond the weasel bureaucratic language the issue is clear: vaccines cause encephalopathies and some encephalopathies result in autism. If there were no long term effects from the encephalopathy there would be no compensation. Most significantly the United States government has avoided wider liability by coming to confidentiality agreements with the litigants. But they had conceded privately that vaccines cause autism.
Regarding the Wakefield episode the issue raised by a 12 case study is not one of statistical significance, it is one of causation. Of course, the paper never claimed to show causation - contrary to the deliberate misleading impression given by the New York Times - but what we are talking about here are doctors quite properly listening to patient histories. Nor was there ever a claim that these were randomly selected children. That is a red herring dismissed by Mr Justice Mitting with much in the United Kingdom High Court in 2012 when he completely exonerated the senior author of the study, Prof John Walker-Smith (Wakefield having been denied funding to appeal).
As Mr Justice Mitting also showed the paper had nothing directly to do with the legal case. Nor did he find evidence of the data being tampered with.
That Wakefield was being retained by lawyers on behalf of the court was known to the Lancet long before the publication of the paper although they pretended not when allegations were made against Wakefield in 2004. Everyone connected with the case must have known about Wakefield’s involvement for years in 2004 but they pretended it was some kind of revelation. Wakefield was paid at standard rate of £150 over a period of seven years so the fees accumulated. One of the experts for the other, for instance, received £225,000 ($360,000) for work over a much shorter period.
Wakefield’s patent did not compete with MMR vaccine: it was to be a therapeutic product for bowel disease in the children which may tenuously have had an application as a measles vaccine, but what Wakefield advised at the time was splitting up MMR using spaced out single vaccines in which he had no financial interest. The British government then politicized the issue by withdrawing the option of single vaccines.
The British Medical Journal had to back down on key claims even before the findings in the High Court. The BMJ claims were shown to be false, even before Mr Justice Mitting’s High Court ruling. It is completely inappropriate to cite this publication at this stage.
Nor does it serve any honest purpose to label all vaccine critics as “anti-vaccine” but many people now with various shades of opinion are completely opposed to to a government-industry juggernaut tramply ordinary people and their children underfoot.
New York Times Retro Report
The Back Story on Trump and Vaccines and Conspiracy Theories
Voiceover: Over the last few years, Donald Trump has suggested there is a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, even though there is no scientific evidence of a connection after numerous studies.
Seth Mnookin, Author of The Panic Virus: There is data from millions and millions of children around the world and it all comes back showing the same thing, that there is zero association. It doesn’t matter how many vaccines you get, it doesn’t matter when you get them, there is just no correlation whatsoever.
Video of Republican Presidential Debate
Trump: We’ve had so many instances, people that work for me, just the other day, two years old, two and a half years old, the child, a beautiful child, went to have the vaccine, and came back and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic. I only say, it’s not, I’m in favour of vaccines, do ‘em over a longer period of time, same amount but…
Convenor interruption: Thank you
Trump: …just in little sections.
Voiceover: At a fundraiser during the campaign, Trump met with several anti-vaxxers, including the discredited researcher Andrew Wakefield. Why is this a big deal?
Seth Mnookin: The current vaccine scares and controversies that we’re still dealing with today stem from the 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield, that appeared in The Lancet, a very respected medical journal published out of the UK.
Voiceover: Despite the fact that it was a preliminary study, the British media ran with it.
Voiceover re Wakefield study: Doctors at the Royal Free Hospital believe they may have discovered a link between the combination vaccine and a bowel disease that can progress to autism.
Andrew Wakefield: We would not have come to this, nor present this paper for publication in The Lancet, unless we had conducted extensive virological studies already.
Voiceover: But actually there were some major problems with Wakefield’s study. First of all, it was comprised of only 12 children.
Seth Mnookin: The notion that you would take a 12 person case study and make claims about a population as a whole is ridiculous.
Voiceover: And that’s not all. There was a major conflict of interest at play.
Seth Mnookin: Right before this paper came out, Andrew Wakefield took out a patent for an alternative measles vaccine, of exactly the type that parents would want if his hypothesis was true.
Voiceover: And then there was Wakefield’s financial interest in making the connection between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Vision of BMJ article: How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed – In the first part of a special BMJ series, Brian Deer exposes the bogus data behind claims that launched a worldwide scare over the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, and reveals how the appearance of a link with autism was manufactured at a London medical school.
Seth Mnookin: Andrew Wakefield was receiving money from a lawyer who was working with parents intent on suing vaccine manufacturers.
Info box: According to BMJ, Wakefield received more than 435,000 pounds ($674,000) from the lawyers. Godlee said the study shows that of the 12 cases Wakefield examined in his paper, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine and three never had autism.
Voiceover: Wakefield was paid approximately $674,000 for his work on the case.
Seth Mnookin: Another thing, he claimed in the paper that the children that he looked at were just a random group of kids. It turns out that many of them were actually sent to him by this lawyer.
Voiceover: And when Wakefield needed a control group of healthy children, he took blood samples from kids attending his son’s birthday party.
Seth Mnookin: When I first heard about it my immediate thought was, worse birthday party ever, and perhaps the most shocking revelation is that he faked some of the data.
Voiceover: An investigation by the British Medical Journal, BMJ, found that Wakefield had altered or misrepresented all 12 of the cases he had cited, and ten of his original co-authors withdrew their names from the study.
Seth Mnookin: Andrew Wakefield lost his licence a couple of years ago, close to the period in time when The Lancet paper was retracted.
Voiceover: Despite losing his medical licence, and follow-up studies on hundreds of thousands of children that contradict his findings, Wakefield feels optimistic since Trump’s election. He recently told Stat News that he found Trump genuinely interested and open-minded on this issue.
John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.