The Link between Autism and the Measles, Mumps, Rubella vaccine (MMR) is the medical version of the “birther” or “truther” story. The original study has never been able to be duplicated, the original paper was withdrawn as false by the medical journal which originally published it, yet for the people who believe it true there is probably not enough evidence in the world to convince them the original study was bogus. And while the study’s believers (such as “actress” Jenny McCarthy) continue to try and convince parents not to vaccinate their kids, unnecessary cases of Measles and Mumps in the United States continue to rise as do needless deaths from these childhood diseases.
Yesterday, the case against the study linking the MMR vaccine to Autism became even stronger. The British Medical Journal published the result of an independent investigation revealing that the British doctor who authored the study, Andrew Wakefield, was guilty of an “elaborate fraud” by faking data in his studies linking vaccines with autism.
According to an editorial in the Medical Journal it was not possible that Wakefield made a mistake and that he must have faked the data. To back up their claim they presented evidence generated by an investigative journalist who generated a series of articles based on examining the same medical records that Wakefield did.
In a series of articles starting this week, and seven years after first looking into the MMR scare, journalist Brian Deer now shows the extent of Wakefield’s fraud and how it was perpetrated (doi:10.1136/bmj.c5347). Drawing on interviews, documents, and data made public at the GMC hearings, Deer shows how Wakefield altered numerous facts about the patients’ medical histories in order to support his claim to have identified a new syndrome; how his institution, the Royal Free Hospital and Medical School in London, supported him as he sought to exploit the ensuing MMR scare for financial gain; and how key players failed to investigate thoroughly in the public interest when Deer first raised his concerns.
Deer published his first investigation into Wakefield’s paper in 2004. This uncovered the possibility of research fraud, unethical treatment of children, and Wakefield’s conflict of interest through his involvement with a lawsuit against manufacturers of the MMR vaccine. Building on these findings, the GMC launched its own proceedings that focused on whether the research was ethical. But while the disciplinary panel was examining the children’s medical records in public, Deer compared them with what was published in the Lancet. His focus was now on whether the research was true.
Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No. A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross.
On his CNN program yesterday Anderson Cooper confronted Dr. Wakefield:
Last May after a seven month investigation, the General Medical Council, which regulates all of Great Britain’s doctors ruled that:
Dr Wakefield had a clear and compelling duty to ensure that the factual information contained in the paper was true and accurate and he failed in this duty….Dr Wakefield’s continued lack of insight as to his misconduct serve only to satisfy the Panel that suspension is not sufficient and that his actions are incompatible with his continued registration as a medical practitioner.
Accordingly the Panel has determined that Dr Wakefield’s name should be erased from the medical register. The Panel concluded that it is the only sanction that is appropriate to protect patients and is in the wider public interest, including the maintenance of public trust and confidence in the profession and is proportionate to the serious and wide-ranging findings made against him.
Now that the evidence that Wakefield did not make mistakes but committed fraud has been revealed, one more investigation of the doctor’s study should be made. This time, the investigation should be made by a criminal prosecutor because if this evidence of fraud holds true, Dr. Wakefield is the cause of hundreds of needless childhood illnesses and dozens of deaths.