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Andrew Wakefield responds to article about journal retraction of autism study report

February 3, 2010 |  2:26 pm

Dr. Andrew Wakefield has responded in an e-mail message to Tuesday's article citing the medical journal Lancet's retraction of his 1998 article purporting to link autism to the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. The article stated that Wakefield now practices in Austin, Texas. In fact, he does not practice medicine, but performs research aimed at the development of new treatments for autism. His statement:

"The allegations against me and my colleagues are both unfounded and unjust and I invite anyone to examine the contents of these proceedings and come to their own conclusion.

"In fact, the Lancet paper does not claim to confirm a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Research into that possible connection is still ongoing."

He is correct -- sort of. The paper does not claim to confirm the link, which has subsequently been refuted by innumerable studies showing that the incidence of the autism epidemic is unrelated to vaccination. But many who read the paper drew the clear inference that the vaccine is the cause. Since the paper's publication, millions of dollars of research funds that could have been spent looking for the causes of the disorder have instead been diverted to investigating the potential link to vaccines. More important, a large number of parents, particularly in England but also in the United States, refused to have their children vaccinated with MMR, leading to outbreaks of measles with serious consequences.

But perhaps for fellow researchers the more relevant question today is whether results from Wakefield's current and ongoing studies can be trusted. Reseachers build upon each other's findings, often trusting that scientific standards have been applied and that the results are legitimate. 

The General Medical Council, Britain's regulator of such affairs, concluded that in his research for the Lancet paper Wakefield acted with "callous disregard" for patients by conducting invasive tests on children that were not in their best medical interests. He also failed to obtain approval from his ethics committee for his studies and obtained blood samples for his research by offering 5 pounds to children at a birthday party, the council said. His paper said that the results were obtained with 12 consecutive patients, when that was not the case, according to the council. He also did not disclose that his studies were funded by lawyers who were attempting to sue the vaccine makers in court, nor that he was developing a vaccine that would have been very profitable if the MMR vaccine was discarded, the council said. The council also said it is considering withdrawing Wakefield's license to practice medicine.

Queried about researchers' concerns, Wakefield responded that: "I commonly conduct research in conjunction with collaborators from universities and private institutions all over the world. These teams of researchers are highly regarded in their fields."

Researchers have also wondered why it took Lancet so long to retract the paper. A letter to The Times from Dr. Gilbert Ross, medical director of the pro-industry American Council on Science and Health, summarizes many of the comments The Times has received:

"The retraction by The Lancet's editor-in-chief Richard Horton comes far too late. Even now, Horton fails to accept responsibility for the human toll he engendered by publishing the Wakefield 'study' in 1998. The study -- even without the then-unknown ethical failings -- was a terribly unscientific piece of garbage, based on 12 children and using a 'novel' theory of causation and flimsy 'evidence'.... Even when 10 of the original 13 authors withdrew their names, Horton declined to either withdraw the article or accept his own guilt for the ravages of preventable childhood diseases following the havoc he allowed to occur."

Rae Sonnenmeier, clinical associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at the University of New Hampshire, concurs, noting that Horton called the paper "fatally flawed" in 2004, while refusing to retract it. The decision has "placed children at unnecessary risk for contracting measles, rubella and mumps, which are serious diseases that can be prevented by immunization," she said.

Wakefield is executive director of Thoughtful House for Children, which submitted the e-mailed statement on his behalf.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

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Comments (36)

Regardless of what's in or not in this article. One thing that is true, but isn't said in so many words is that autsim a biological disorder. It's more than a neurological issue.

Another item that most people forget is that mercury - in any amount - is not safe in the human body. There is no acceptable limit since it does not belong anywhere in anyone's system. The MMR vaccine used to contain a large amount of mercury due to thimersol (basically a chemical used to stabilize the contents). This introduction of what was basically a large amount of mercury put many kids who were genetically at risk over the edge into the ASD spectrum.

We see many more cases of autism these days due to two main reasons. 1) We've got a bunch of environmental issues going on where there are more kids at risk. We have too many pollutants in our air, water, and food. 2) screening for ASD spectrum disorders has gotten better since we are slowly beginning to understand the ways that autsim affects the brain and body.

Many of the people who grew up in the '70's and '80's are toxic beings due to their surroundings and air, water, and food contaminants. Well, now these toxic beings are having toxic children...Hence the rise in autism. Study after study ignores the basic science of it all - contaminants that do not belong in the human body.

The "invasive procedures" you cite were colonoscopies on children with bowel disease. I thought colonoscopies were standard of care for bowel disease of undetermined origin. Oh, & he did biopsies of festering lesions in the gut. Obviously, he should have told the parents, "Gee, there was something really nasty looking in there. I wonder what it was?" The reporting on this has been outrageously dishonest, & has needlessly pilloried a good man seeking the truth. Live measles virus was found in the guts of children; it was genetically matched to the strain in the MMR; according to vaccine theory, the immune systems of the children should have killed it off long before. Something is wrong here. But let's not research it -- let's kill the messenger!

A limit of 2 parts mercury per billion parts of drinking water (2 ppb) has been established by the EPA. In addition, the EPA requires the reporting of spills or releases of 1 pound or more of mercury. The FDA has set a limit of 1 part per million (ppm) of mercury in seafood. The FDA also regulates the use of mercury in medical treatments such as dental amalgams. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) limits the level of mercury in workplaces to 1 milligram per 10 cubic meters of air (1 mg/10 m3).
- as per the NHT of Toxicology
-I'm pretty sure they did the research and know what they are talking about

I thank Mr. Maugh II for citing my letter as part of his column in his "Booster Shots" blog. However, his descriptor of my organization--The American Council on Science and Health--as "pro-industry" is both gratuitous and inaccurate. ACSH is a consumer education and advocacy non-profit guided by over 350 academicians, among whose Trustees included (until his recent passing) Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug, "Father of the Green Revolution," credited with saving more lives than any other human. Ever. Further, our thousands of individual supporters would be highly offended to learn that we have been so unfairly characterized. We are and always have been and always will be "pro-consumer." Pro-industry are we? Just ask the organic food industry, the dietary supplement industry, the tobacco industry, the "green cleaner" industry. Our funding support is also quite diverse. We are beholden to no industry nor corporation--only to the American consumer. That's why we have been in the forefront of condemning the unscientific, alarmist, and agenda-driven attack on vaccines, such as that led by Dr. Wakefield and his acolytes. And--by the way, Ken: MMR vaccine never had any thimerosal. These viruses are attenuated (live) so no thimerosal for them. You'll have to come up with some other crackpot theory to attack vaccines. Gil Ross MD/ACSH

Ken, you're mistaken: the MMR vaccine has never had mercury in it.

The theory behind Wakefield's research had nothing whatever to do with mercury. Instead, it relates to the idea that measles virus from the MMR vaccine could block the intestines, leading to leaky gut syndrome - and to the movement of harmful proteins from the gut to the brain.

A separate theory, presented by RFK Jr. and many others, suggests that mercury from thimerosal (a preservative used in some vaccines) could be a cause of autism.

Your confusion over two quite different vaccine-related theories is not unusual. In fact, there is tremendous confusion and misinformation relative to this issue. Parents are really challenged to find accurate reporting and information.

Lisa

At 18 mos my son was normal by all metrics. He could catch a ball and throw. My wife is an outstanding athlete so we thought he might carry on her tradition. After his MMR at 19 mos, he could no longer speak, babble, or come close to playing catch. I know it's not a double blind study but the big government, corporate welfare, media collusion will never change my mind.

Thanks for covering this story. Autism parents like myself are happy to see Dr. Wakefield get the credit he has been due for 12 years.

Anne Seals can read the actual ruling online. It is quite long, but it makes out the case for how many of the children were given the colonoscopies unnecessarily. Even experts for Dr. Wakefield's side agreed on that.

Live measles were not found in the guts of children. First, the (now retracted) Lancet article didn't even discuss that possibility. Second, the later papers claiming that were as flawed or more than the Lancet article. For example, Dr. Wakefield ignored a scientist in his own laboratory who tested the samples and found no measles virus in them.

I hope the journal editors and the media learn from their mistakes in the Wakefield fiasco.

"Since the paper's publication, millions of dollars of research funds that could have been spent looking for the causes of the disorder have instead been diverted to investigating the potential link to vaccines."

Do you think it is possible there are other reasons why the public needs to know about the safety of vaccines? I mean newspaper headlines have shouted out in the past that people die from vaccines. Not only vaccines but vaccines that have created mutated strains of the disease they are meant to protect against.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/3336455/Secret-report-reveals-18-child-deaths-following-vaccinations.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/11/health/11iht-polio.1.7847606.html?_r=1

Ken,
1)The only evidence we have now suggests that autism is a genetic disorder. 2)Thimerosal is not used to "stabilize" the contents of a vaccine. Thimerosal is used in multi-dose vials to prevent bacterial growth.
3) There is no relationship between mercury exposure and autism incidence. In fact, the research shows that children who received vaccines with thimerosal are LESS likely to have autism. Thimerosal was removed from vaccines in 2001 and the incidence continues to rise.
4)The rise in autism incidence is almost entirely due to a broadening of the definition, better diagnostic criteria and overall awareness.

Anne,
Wakefield is a false prophet. His study was financed by personal injury attorney's who had pending claims against the pharmaceutical companies. He also holds a patent for an alternative to the MMR vaccine. That he acted unethically, dishonestly and irresponsibly is but icing on the cake. The results of his study have not been reproducible in the slightest. Your devotion to the failed vaccine-autism link is akin to radical fundamentalism. This article is remarkably accurate

I don't need research to tell me what I already know. Many children, including my nephew, were perfectly normal children on the day of their immunizations and were autistic one week later. I strongly advise anyone with a son to NOT immunize.

There are 2 comments here which I believe represents the feeling of many people that one day their kids were normal, the next day (or close to immunization), their kids are autistic.

While I was reading these comments, I thought, couldn't the health dept (maybe for a month) mandate that all children planned for MMR immunization be tested for autism PRIOR to receiving it? The austism tests should be done by objective doctors or professionals (not parents subjective testing). This would collect large number of data points and confirm whether or not these claims of one day being normal and the next day not.

Is this idea/test not feasible or has some similar tests have been performed? For me, it is really remarkable that this could happen to a child and scares me.

SCIENCE:

If you don't make mistakes, you're doing it wrong.
If you don't correct those mistakes, you're doing it really wrong.
If you can't accept that you were mistaken, you're not doing it at all.

-From a demotivational poster

Look at the rates of autism in kids who were never vaccinated (Amish). Those who will fund the obvious studies are not looking for answers they are looking for ways to protect their pockets.

jody,

"After his MMR at 19 mos, he could no longer speak, babble, or come close to playing catch."

Scary and telling.

Hope60 - actually that is a myth. The Amish do get their kids vaccinated and they do have kids on the spectrum.

Recently, UC Davis did a study to find autism clusters in California. The clusters where autism rates were highest were the ones where there were more white, affluent parents. Coincidentally, these are also the areas where vaccinations rates were relatively low. Looking at this, one would think that vaccines prevented autism. Of course, there are other reasons why autism was high in these areas. It just goes to show that correlation does not equal causation.

A lot of the commenters here are confusing correalation with causation. They also mistake a lack of scientific evidence of a link with evidence of corporate conspiracy (never mind the shear magnitude of conspirators necessary to pertuate this kind of fraud). We've seen this tatic play out in other areas of the scientific community: evolution deniers, global warming deniers, AIDS deniers, etc. It's a tired tactic and nothing short of bold faced conspiracy mongering. The evidence that vaccines are safe and effective is there for anyone to read. Whether you choose to wallow in denialism and delusion is your own perogative, but when you decide to not vaccinate your child it becomes everyone's business. Unvaccinated people are a risk to themselves and others in the community with depressed immune systems.

Parents are looking for someone to blame, plain and simple. It's a shame that they aren't able to think critically about their own inherent biases and trust the scientific method.

all my kids and their cousins 21 in total had mmr and are not autistic,so that is telling, i suggest getting it mike k

At 18 mos my son was normal by all metrics. He could catch a ball and throw. After his MMR at 19 mos, he was still normal by all metrics. Its not a double blind study either but but the big government, corporate welfare, media collusion will never change my mind - vaccines did save him from a variety of deadly diseases and since he did not get autism there is no connection. It's true because I used your same logic.

First of all very few Amish are vaccinated, and no Amish child has autism, the two that were found to be autistic were adopted.

Second vaccines are not safe. Statistically they are safe, same as being stuck by lightening but would you stick your year old toddler in the middle of a field during a thunderstorm?

Third vaccines are not effective. Many people find out there immunity is gone after receiving vaccines. Also some vaccines cause greater problems with creating mutant strains of the disease that make it harder to stop.

Please read the links below.

18 deaths reported from vaccines

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/3336455/Secret-report-reveals-18-child-deaths-following-vaccinations.html

New mutant polio strain found from polio vaccine, for the second time.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/11/health/11iht-polio.1.7847606.html?_r=1

Correlation certainly doesn't equal causation. Additionally, those who so vehemently argue against vaccines reflect the scope of the damage done by a single study. This video http://bit.ly/arYP4Q even argues that the original peer-review panel rejected the paper in 1998, before its publishing. Wakefield's credibility has been rightly questioned.

As the grandparent of a child with Autism, I have concerns about the matter and reporting of the potential link between Autism and vaccinations in general and currently as it relates to the recent retraction by the Lancet of Dr. Andrew Wakefield's article in 1998 and how he is being portrayed.

I first want to say that I feel, as I’m certain many people do, that the pharmaceutical industry has provided us with great advances in medicine and most doctors are dedicated to their cause and completely ethical in their practice of medicine. I also feel that physicians have a right to earn a living from their profession, especially considering the importance of their work, years of study and great expense they incur before they become licensed to practice.

It is curious that an article written by a doctor 12 years ago that merely suggested a possible link between the MMR vaccine and digestive tract problems in children would cause such alarm in the pharmaceutical industry and medical fields today. From any factual information that I can find, Dr. Wakefield did not say there was a link between vaccines and Autism, he simply suggested that further studies be done, and in the interest of precaution recommended considering single vaccines, and that they be spread out over time instead of multiple vaccines at one time, until his recommendation for scientific studies could be undertaken and reviewed. This seems to be sound advice, especially in this age of misleading advertising that touts new miracle drugs, many having dangerous side effects.

I realize that in all likelihood, most reporters of medical news designed for general consumption are not science or medical experts themselves, but I find it hard to imagine reporting on a medical article without reading the article in question, which is apparently happening in the Wakefield case. Here are two very telling quotes from Dr. Wakefield’s 1998 article on the matter of Autism and any vaccine connection. “We did not prove an association between measles mumps and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described.” “Further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome and its possible relation to the vaccine.” In light of the facts, perhaps an investigation into the ethics and professionalism of some news reporters in order.

A primary principle of the Hippocratic Oath is "first do no harm", not "first make a profit and remember not to upset the powers that be". And no one wants to hear the phrase, “the cure is worse than the illness”. In the case of Dr. Wakefield, and apparently any other proponent of research into vaccine safety, the appearance of the old tried and true method of publicly attacking, ridiculing and disparaging someone to diminish their credibility and standing in the community while strengthening an opposing position only leads me to believe that his call for scientific research and safety precautions must be threatening to some powerful interests. Statements by "medical experts" who are proponents of vaccines but also may be consultants to the CDC, who are funded by pharmaceutical companies or derive a large portion of their income by administering vaccinations, should be carefully scrutinized. These people may be confronted with interests that conflict with the truth or their income, which in turn may interfere with the concept “first do no harm”.

How did it come to be that a group of doctors and parents simply concerned about the safety of their children could be verbally attacked, demeaned, ridiculed and depicted as hopeless souls grasping at straws? Why is it that calls for scientific research and open honest questions about vaccine safety and Autism are sidetracked into conversations about measles, chicken pox or some other diversion, which is often the case? In this current news event, how can it be that no major news organization has bothered to check the content of the Wakefield article and yet allows false and misleading remarks to be made by his detractors in an uncontested fashion? Has this case been turned into a platform to once again discredit the questioning of vaccine safety and get the pro vaccine word out?

In the case of Autism, a documented major medical health crisis that affects 1 in 110 children born in this country, we need independent, unbiased scientific research - research that is not funded by pharmaceutical companies or government agencies. This may be a difficult task as even many large charitable organizations that help fund research are themselves funded in part by some of these special interests. Will anyone be willing to bite the hand that feeds them in order to get to the truth? We need honest studies on the affect of the large amount of vaccines that infants and young children are receiving. If we have the scientific research, the public will embrace the findings. If vaccines are truly proven safe for infants and young children, almost all parents would not hesitate to make use of them. The families dealing with Autism are starved for answers. They realize that they know very little about the possible causes and treatments. They just need answers that science may hold. There have been studies that have shown a genetic link in about 15% of Autism cases. Where are the independent vaccine studies? While there are many variables in Autism cases, by far the most common link families across the country have with each other is that almost all have had vaccinations. Isn’t it logical that this would raise concerns? Is it a mere coincidence that Autism arrives at the same time that multiple vaccinations are being introduced to infants developing bodies? Let’s have definitive studies. Are other environmental factors or epigenetics playing a role? We need research here too. It would that seem that some in the medical community, as well as pharmaceutical companies that manufacture vaccines are suffering from two conditions: They either don’t realize what they don’t know or they know more than they are willing to admit. And what they may know may not be beneficial to their interests. Either condition is not very good.

Obviously, there are thousands of parents choosing not to vaccinate, regardless of the CDC’s recommendations and urging by pediatricians. Just as obviously, there is a lack of trust. This lack of trust seems to be growing in spite of what appears to be a well organized effort promoting vaccines, backed by powerful concerns, with open access to major media outlets. If a so called expert appears on television and says 20 studies have been performed with no evidence of a link between Autism and vaccinations, should we believe it at face value or are we right to question it? What are these studies? Who performed them? Who funded them? Were there conflicts of interest in any of the studies? Were the results colored to show a pre determined and desired result? Were there any studies done on the effect of combinations of vaccinations over a short period of time? Has any study compared vaccinated to unvaccinated children? Are 36 vaccines necessary? Are news reports on this subject colored to achieve a desired effect, perhaps unwittingly in some cases or by way of carefully composed material fed by special interests, and the inability to check facts in a timely fashion? Let’s not be naive about this world. When power, control, politics and profits are challenged, there will be great repercussions.

Whether it is families affected by Autism or any other important issue, people need something concrete to believe in. Journalists can fill that need by safeguarding and reporting the truth. We have lived through many mistakes and misdeeds that were covered up over the years. Political, financial, military, social, environmental issues and many more have all been subject to wrong doing, corruptions and cover ups and many have ultimately been exposed as being wrong, unfair and unjust and usually corrected after exposure. I could see the great movie director of the 1930's and 1940's, Frank Capra, having a field day with this case of a small group of families and doctors fighting the big, powerful multi billion dollar pharmaceutical machine as well as some questionable positions of the CDC and the NIH, simply to find some truth for their cause. Reporting the news accurately is arguably one of the greatest responsibilities and privileges any person or organization can have in this country. Truth in news is our last line of defense in dealing with so much information and so many things that impact our lives, but it cannot be the truth that a special interest wants us to believe. Taken from the book The Elements of Journalism, journalism’s first obligation is to the truth and its first loyalty is to its citizens. Let it be so.

Paul Campadonico,

it is worth starting from the very basics. For many of the ethics questions It doesn't matter what Dr. Wakefield's research was, or whether he was correct. Did he do his work in an ethical manner? We can't give a pass to those we agree with (which, for the record I don't agree with Dr. Wakefield).

Dr. Wakefield's team performed scientific studies on disabled children before getting ethical approval. That is a violation of those children's most fundamental civil rights.

Once the ethical approval was in place, Dr. Wakefield's team was supposed to only take research data in parallel with tests that were ongoing for the clinical needs of the child. In multiple cases, the team did invasive tests that were not needed by the children. This was confirmed not only by the facts presented, but by experts testifying for Dr. Wakefield!

It is one thing to say, "We are doing a colonoscopy. This carries significant risk. But, as long as we are doing it, let's get some samples that might help other kids with this condition.

It is a TOTALLY different thing to say, "I need more data for my research. Let's do a colonoscopy on this child, even though his record doesn't indicate it, even though it puts the child at significant risk of harm"

You call for independent, unbiased research. Dr. Wakefield's studies fall far short of that standard. Dr. Wakefield was paid to help make a case that the MMR vaccine was causing harm. He didn't make that public until he was forced to do so. Dr. Wakefield had plans to develop a vaccine alternative, with a business plan submitted to his hospital days after the publication of his article in The Lancet.

The autism community, heck the entire world, deserves better than Dr. Wakefield.

When I think of the cognitive gifts that man has and has wasted, I weep.

bensmyson - re: Amish vaccination rates.

http://autism-news-beat.com/archives/29

Where do you get the idea that the Amish don't vaccinate?

Also, you say vaccines are statistically safe, but are not safe. I'm not sure what that is supposed to mean. If you think only something that is 100% safe can be considered safe, then nothing is safe. By making that the standard, of course vaccines will never be safe in your eyes. You'd have to live in a bubble and never leave your house, never eat or drink anything, never go in your bathtub, etc. (And in fact, you still would not be safe.)

Paul Campadonico - you talk about "the truth", as if there is some ultimate truth that lay beyond the facts. The facts are that there have been numerous studies, many from groups not at all linked to pharmaceutical companies, that have not been able to show a vaccine-autism link. There are people that have such a strong, religious-like belief in this link that no amount of data will change their minds.

Also, it is not so much the pharmaceutical industry worrying. They actually tried to get out of the vaccine business, since it is relatively low-margin compared to many other drugs. It is the infectious disease specialists that are worrying over these dreadful diseases coming back for no reason.

Dr. Wakefield,
We are well aware of why your study was denigrated; there are politicians and drug manufacturers that are colluding to remove the resistant to adjuvants and preservatives, so they can move full steam ahead with H1N1 vaccination. The adjuvants cause neurological problems that are irreversible, and parents of children who were perfectly normal before the vaccine and now have a vegetable know the truth: adjuvants and preservatives kill.

 


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