I, like Dr. Andrew Wakefield, author of the book Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines—the Truth Behind a Tragedy, am neither pro-vaccine nor anti-vaccine. I am simply safety first.
What initially piqued my interest in Dr. Wakefield’s story and his study of autism, gastrointestinal disorder, and the MMR vaccine in children was not the question of the safety of vaccines, however, but rather the distorted facts and outright lies surrounding his story that have been propagated by physicians, government officials, and mass media.
How could so many individuals and professional groups stray so far from the facts and create a story all their own? Where was the integrity and commitment to truthfulness and public aid that one would expect to find? Why was it OK to spread falsehoods that could ultimately affect the health of those most in need: sick children?
Because of the attacks on Dr. Wakefield, the lead author of a paper that appeared in the British medical journal The Lancet in 1998 and was retracted in 2010 following an inquisition by the General Medical Council, he lost his job, medical license and reputation and ultimately left his home country for the U.S. After listening to a few interviews with him I decided to purchase his book to learn the side of the story not told by popular media. I was alarmed to find the extent to which he is now persona non grata in the U.K., made apparent on the copyright page: “NOTE TO ALL CUSTOMERS: NOT FOR SALE IN THE UNITED KINGDOM.”
Dr. Wakefield devotes his book to describing the events leading up to the publishing and subsequent withdrawal of The Lancet paper, delineating relationships between all the major players, and addressing the misconceptions and lies encasing his team’s investigation and treatment of 12 children with autism spectrum disorder and gastrointestinal problems who had received the MMR vaccine just prior to the onset of symptoms.
Among the more prominent myths and his responses to them are:
Myth: The Lancet paper claimed that the MMR vaccine causes autism.
Truth: The authors made no such claim. They simply stated that a conclusion could not be drawn either way and that more research would be necessary.
Myth: The children were “referred” to the Royal Free Hospital by lawyers hoping to sue vaccine manufacturers.
Truth: The children were referred by their physicians and at the concern of their parents.
Myth: Clinical treatment of these children was funded by the Legal Aid Board (LAB), which provides funding for people to access legal aid.
Truth: LAB funding was acquired for a separate study that took place at a later time, and the funding source was disclosed.
Myth: The sample size used was too small for the results to be valid.
Truth: Because this was not research in the hypothesis-testing, control using sense and was instead a series of diagnostic tests and clinical treatments of patients presenting with similar backgrounds and symptoms (what is known as a case series and was intended by Dr. Wakefield and his colleagues to form hypotheses, not test them) the number of children studied is not an issue.
Myth: The paper’s findings have not been replicated.
Truth: The paper’s findings, which regarded a link between gastrointestinal problems and autism and the treatment of intestinal inflammation to reduce the symptoms of autism, have been replicated by independent studies in several different countries.
At the conclusion of Dr. Wakefield’s story I could only answer my original questions about the manipulation of the dissemination of research with “fear, greed and ignorance”—hardly sufficient reasons to sweep under the rug information that could better the lives of children with autism. And though in the wake of better understanding the corruption surrounding vaccines, I am still neither for nor against them but hopeful that one day safety will trump fear, greed and ignorance for the sake of my kids and yours, too.
Ashley is an environmental educator turned stay-at-home mom and doula-in-training. She and “the hot guy from biology” are the parents of a toddler and are expecting another baby next month. She intensely researches anything of interest and uses that information to blog about natural parenting and choices in childbirth, while adding a regular dash of her reflections on life. You can find her at Mama Raw and on Facebook .