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In “The Pathological Optimist” Wakefield Profits From False Hope and a Disproved Autism-MMR Hypothesis

October 23, 2017 33 comments

This guest post has been written by Every Child By Two Board Member, Dr. Paul A. Offit, who is a professor of pediatrics and Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. 

The Pathological Optimist, which had its theatrical release on September 29, 2017, is a movie about Andrew Wakefield, the British doctor who claimed that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism.

Although much has been written about this man and his discredited hypothesis, one question remains unanswered. And it’s this question that makes Andrew Wakefield such an interesting character study.

Among scientists, Andrew Wakefield is unique.  He’s not unique because his explanation for why MMR caused autism was nonsensical. (MMR vaccine doesn’t overwhelm the immune system; measles vaccine virus doesn’t damage the intestine; and brain-damaging toxins don’t then enter the body and cause autism). And he’s not unique because 17 studies performed in seven countries on three continents showed that those who received MMR weren’t at greater risk of autism. (Four thousand studies are published in the scientific and medical literature every day; not surprisingly, false claims are published all the time). He’s not unique because the Lancet, the medical journal that published his original paper, retracted it when the editor learned that Wakefield had misrepresented biological and clinical data. (Researchers who falsify data are an occasional problem in science—a human endeavor). And he’s not unique because several of the families mentioned in his paper were in the midst of suing pharmaceutical companies, essentially laundering their legal claims through a medical journal. (Conflicts of interest occasionally confound medical research). Finally, he’s not unique because his misrepresentations and falsehoods caused him to lose his medical license. (Every year some doctors lose their license to practice medicine).

No. What makes Andrew Wakefield unique is that unlike many of the discredited, defrocked, and humiliated scientists who have preceded him, he continues to insist that he is right and that the rest of the world is wrong.

The question is: Why? In The Pathological Optimist, executive producer Miranda Bailey pulls back the curtain.

Between 2011 and 2016, Bailey, who is best known for her work in Swiss Army Man, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Norman, embedded herself in Andrew Wakefield’s life. Bailey is no novice. She’s spent a lot of time working around people who act for a living. She’s not easily fooled. And she’s not fooled here.

Throughout the movie, Andrew Wakefield’s grandiosity, his exaggerated sense of self-importance, his fantasies of brilliance, his sense of entitlement, his need for constant admiration, and his arrogance are on full display.

The Pathological Optimist follows Wakefield on what appears to be a cross-country, money-seeking tour targeting parents of children with autism. Wakefield isn’t raising money for research on autism’s causes or cures. And he isn’t raising money to promote better services or better educational tools for children with the disorder. Rather, he’s raising money for himself; specifically, to pay legal fees for his lawsuits against Brian Deer, the investigative journalist who had exposed Wakefield’s falsifications in the Lancet paper, and Fiona Godlee, the editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal who had called Wakefield’s paper fraudulent and challenged the Lancet to retract it.

Wakefield is out to restore his reputation. And he’s taking advantage of vulnerable parents who believe in him to do it. For Andrew Wakefield, it’s all about Andrew Wakefield.

Read more…

Andrew Wakefield Has Never Been, and Never Will Be, Exonerated

August 5, 2016 4 comments

journalsEvery Child By Two is pleased to launch another article in their series featuring guest writer Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH, a retired epidemiologist who has worked in the areas of preventive medicine, infectious diseases, medical outcomes research,
and evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Dr. Harrison volunteers his time to provide in-depth and expert analysis of articles which ultimately make false claims about the safety of vaccines.  

Today we will feature Dr. Harrison’s latest paper Andrew Wakefield Has Never Been Exonerated: Justice Mitting’s Decision in the John Walker-Smith Case 

The executive summary is posted here on Shot of Prevention with links to the full article on the Every Child By Two website.

Andrew Wakefield is a prominent figure among those who fear that vaccines cause more harm than good. When the UK’s General Medical Council (GMC) revoked his medical license, as well as the license of Professor John Walker-Smith, a co-author on Wakefield’s 1998 paper, his supporters saw the decision as a political move to silence his criticism of vaccine safety and his claims that vaccines, the MMR in particular, played a causal role in the rise of autism and other childhood disabilities. Both Wakefield and Walker-Smith appealed the GMC decision; but Wakefield discontinued his appeal.

On March 7, 2012, Mr. Justice Mitting of the UK’s High Court of Justice published the Court’s decision in the Professor John Walker-Smith case, overturning the GMC decision. It did not take long for anti-vaccination websites to post articles referring to the Court’s decision, emphasizing that Walker-Smith and, by implication, Wakefield, had been exonerated.

This paper will show that Justice Mitting’s decision in no way exonerated Wakefield,

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photo credit: yournewswire.com

 

that even with regard to John Walker-Smith, the decision was based on a procedural error, not factual innocence. In addition, despite what antivaccinationists have written, Justice Mitting’s decision also made clear that he considered the research showing no relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism to be established science.

In conclusion, it is clear that Andrew Wakefield has not, and given the overwhelming evidence, will NEVER BE EXONERATED…..Read this  absolutely fascinating article in full by clicking here.

 

Everything is bigger in Texas — except when it’s not: A Texan reflects on #NIAM

August 4, 2016 1 comment

In recognition of National Immunization Awareness Month (#NIAM16), Every Child By Two’s #StateofTheImmUnion campaign will highlight the importance of vaccines throughout the lifespan.  We are excited to present the first in a series of guest posts from colleagues throughout the nation who will provide their perspective on the topic of the week for #NIAM16.

The following post focusing on adult vaccines was written by Anna Dragsbaek, President and CEO of The Immunization Partnership, a Texas-based non-profit organization dedicated to the eradication of vaccine-preventable diseases through education, advocacy for science-based immunization policy and the support of immunization best practices.

During this week of National Immunization Awareness Month, it’s a good time to reflect on how we are doing as a state and as a nation with vaccinating our communities, including adults. And while Texas is the best state in the union for a number of reasons, when it comes to vaccinating our adults, we have some work to do.

Bigger isn’t always better.TIP-Logo-cmyk-2016.jpg

Fewer than half of Texas adults got the flu vaccine last season — far short of the Healthy People 2020 objective of 70 percent. Why is this? Some of it has to do with the things that are bigger — but that we wish weren’t. Take, for instance, the percentage of people whose access to vaccinations might be limited by their lack of health insurance. According to the Texas Medical Association, one in four adults in Texas don’t have medical insurance; nationwide, the number is one in six, the CDC reports.

The Adult Safety Net Program is designed to help uninsured adults gain access to vaccines by providing low-cost immunization — and it does help. Many adults are able to access to vaccines who otherwise wouldn’t be able to because of this program. But it can only do so much. And all too often adults live in areas where they don’t have access to an Adult Safety Net provider, don’t qualify for the program themselves, or area providers don’t offer all the vaccines recommended by the CDC.

texasAnd even those with insurance can find it difficult to gain access to vaccination for other reasons.

Texas has the largest rural population in the country — a fact that becomes abundantly apparent on the roughly 11-hour drive from Houston to El Paso. The entire state takes up more than 260,000 square miles. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly the square footage of neighboring states New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana combined.  With so much ground to cover, many in the state have to travel long distances to see a healthcare provider. And because not all providers participate in the Adult Safety Net Program, the distance that uninsured Texans must drive can be significantly longer — even though these tend to be the people who can least afford the time and gas for a long drive.

But perhaps most importantly, many adults — especially young adults —simply don’t know that immunizations are recommended not just during childhood or when you’re in school, but also from age 19 on.

TEXASdreamstime_xl_4988317That could be, in part, due to the infrequency with which adults seek preventative care from their health home. Primary care providers (PCP) are often the chief health educators for families of all ages, and if adults aren’t seeing their PCPs (because of lack of insurance or access issues), they might not be getting information on what vaccines they might need and why.

But if anyone is up for a challenge, it’s Texans.

This spring we traveled across the state of Texas to talk with more than 700 healthcare providers, public health officials and vaccine advocates about what they experience on the ground as they work to protect our communities. And one thing is abundantly clear: Texans protect Texans. There are a lot of hard-working people throughout this great state who are committed to doing what they can to improve immunization rates across the lifespan and protect our communities from needless suffering as a result of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Community health workers are putting together health fairs to offer free flu vaccines for adults in Houston. Coalitions are working together in West Texas, the Panhandle and the Rio Grande Valley to educate and vaccinate adults in their communities. And stakeholders are working with the Texas state government in Austin to expand the vaccines available to uninsured adults and improve the statewide immunization registry to promote adult participation.

Things look like they’re getting better.

TEXASdreamstime_xl_29557210During the 2010-2011 flu season, about 40 percent of Texas adults were vaccinated against flu. In 2014-2015? That number was 45 percent. Sure, the progress is slow. And to move the needle even further, we’ll have to come together as a state to educate the adult population and push for laws and policies that could help improve access and uptake.

If there’s one thing we can be bigger — and better — at, it’s working together for better health for adults and families. But we’re Texans afterall. We don’t shy away from a challenge.

Find out more about the great works of Texas’ Immunization Partnership  by visiting www.immunizeUSA.org/blog

Join us next week as we present a guest blog from a physician colleague from California on the #NIAM16 topic of Pregnancy

What Social Media Has Taught Me About Research And Vice Versa

September 4, 2015 Leave a comment
Written by Every Child By Two intern, Linn H.

As a first year Doctoral Student in the field of Public Health, I still have a long way to go before I can put my education into practice.  As I conclude my experience as a summer intern with Every Child By Two, I wanted to talk about what I’ve learned and how it will influence my work moving forward.

As my mom used to tell me,

 “It’s not what you say, but how you say it, that makes the difference.”

So far, my research has focused onfda-tobacco-8d6e8f707cc229fe health communication; how messages can shape our attitudes, perceptions, intentions and behaviors. This ranges from how public health campaigns can influence personal health choices, to how these messages are translated across social networks.

One research study I’m currently working on looks at how graphic warning labels on cigarette packages are influencing people’s decisions regarding smoking across a wide variety of populations. Because effective health communication requires the information to be tailored for a particular audience, we’re seeking to learn which types of messaging will be most effective at enhancing people’s health behaviors.

We know that how a message is framed can influence the persuasive impact and possibly encourage particular behaviors. For instance, a message can be presented as a loss or gain but the difference between these two approaches can change how people react.

framing-image

As an example, in encouraging people to quit smoking, is it more effective to tell them they will gain years of life with their grandchildren, or is it more effective to explain that if they don’t quit they will get lung cancer and die? Our research attempts to determine how messages are received across different populations and situations, and under what circumstances these messages are best framed.

Putting My Research Into Practice

In my studies, I’ve been able to test the effects of such messages in a controlled laboratory setting, but I’m rarely able to study different messages in the real world setting.  As I’ve worked to support Every Child By Two in their social media endeavors this summer, I’ve been able to experience what it’s like to generate important health messages that are shared with the public instead of just academic researchers.

Unlike controlled academic research that is conducted in a lab-based setting, is peer-reviewed by your colleagues, and is structured in a scientific format, the work I’ve done this summer has provided me with a real world perspective. Read more…

We’re Healthier Today Thanks to the Vaccines of Yesterday

August 27, 2015 12 comments

“You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.”

We often take the medical marvel of vaccines for granted. When we stop to evaluate public health, we tend to focus on the need for improvement.  On the topic of vaccines and disease prevention, we often emphasize the morbidity and mortality of disease as well as the percentage of unvaccinated individuals.  Rarely do we take time to appreciate the number of illnesses that are avoided and the overwhelming number of people who are vaccinated.

Unfortunately, being successful and effective in public health is not easily apparent because the prevention of disease is difficult to witness. That’s why, as we conclude National Immunization Awareness Month, I want to acknowledge the impact vaccines have had on our health in 2015 and throughout the course of history.   Let’s applaud the fact that vaccines have reduced, and in some cases eliminated, diseases that had commonly killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago. Stop and imagine all the deaths and illnesses that have been prevented thanks to wide-spread vaccination of just these three diseases:

Smallpox

 Young girl in Bangladesh was infected with smallpox in 1973. Photo Credit: CDC/James Hicks

Young girl in Bangladesh  with smallpox in 1973. Photo Credit: CDC/J. Hicks

Smallpox was a serious, contagious, and sometimes fatal infectious disease caused by a virus called the variola virus. The disease caused small pus-filled blisters that appeared on the face and body of an infected person.

The disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans a year during the end of the 18th century, and was responsible for a third of all cases of blindness.Of all those infected, 20–60 percent—and over 80 percent of infected children—died from the disease.

Smallpox was responsible for an estimated 300–500 million deaths during the 20th century.

As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 15 million people contracted the disease and that two million died in that year alone.

Fortunately, we no longer have to get smallpox shots because smallpox vaccination eradicated that disease worldwide.

That’s right! No more disease means no more shots! Read more…

Be a Vaccine Superhero: Spare Yourself and Others From Disease

August 18, 2015 29 comments

Written by Every Child By Two intern, Linn H.

As students of public health, through our courses and fieldwork, we often have the opportunity to travel the globe and work with populations from all walks of life. However, with these great opportunities comes a great responsibility to protect others by protecting ourselves.

with-great-power-comes-great

I’m not saying we all need to be like Spider-Man here, or that we’re heroes with great power. But I do think that knowing you could have done something to prevent a certain fate is an important lesson.

Take for example the recent case of a Washington Women who died as a consequence of contracting measles at a local medical facility. Since she was on medication that suppressed her immune system, this tragedy illustrates the importance of immunizing those that are healthy in order to provide a high level of community protection to those who are more susceptible to illness.

This case illustrates the fact that many individuals rely on healthy adults like myself to help prevent the spread of dangerous and even deadly diseases. Infants too young to be vaccinated, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems (like those undergoing cancer treatment) are especially vulnerable to infectious disease.

That’s why it’s important for adults to become educated on the recommended adult vaccines.  If we fail to get routine vaccinations as an adult, we put those around us and ourselves at risk.

As adults, there is often this misconception that vaccines are just for children, but we never outgrow the need for immunizations.

Vaccines are recommended throughout our lives based on age, lifestyle, occupation, locations of travel, medical conditions and vaccines received in the past.

Even if you were fully vaccinated as a child, the immunity that you received from some of the vaccines you were given can wear off.  Vaccines not only prevent against illnesses that we’re susceptible to as adults, but they help protect others we come into contact with such as the very young, the very old, people with weakened immune systems, and those who cannot be vaccinated.

Some of the vaccines recommended for adults are highlighted on a spreadsheet here and include:

  • Influenza (flu) vaccine each year to protect against seasonal flu.  Flu vaccine reduces your risk of heart attacks or other flu related complications among people with pre-existing health conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
  • Tdap booster vaccine to protect against pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, and diphtheria, at least once every 10 years but more often if you are around young babies.  In addition, pregnant women should receive a Tdap vaccine each time they are pregnant, preferably at 27 through 36 weeks.
  • Other vaccines – such as shingles, pneumococcal, hepatitis, HPV – are dependent on one’s age, occupation, travel, health status, vaccination history, and other risk factors.  For instance, Hepatitis B vaccine reduces your risk of liver cancer and HPV vaccine reduces your risk of cervical, penile, throat, anus and various other HPV-related cancers.

Despite the availability of life-saving vaccines, approximately 42,000 adults and 300 children in the United States die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Read more…

Vaccines, Pregnancy and my PhD

August 13, 2015 1 comment

National Immunization Awareness Month

WEEK 2: Pregnancy and Vaccines

As a PhD student, we don’t ‘settle down’ all that early. The continuing education or the ‘grind of grad school’ requires that you plan out as much of your personal life as you possibly can. This means planning where you are going to live, who is coming with you, and when and where you are going to have kids.

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As a student in the field of public health, we do more than just think about the timing of our pregnancy, we think about our health, our future lifestyle choices and the vaccines you should get during pregnancy that will protect you and your child over the entire developmental lifecycle, from pre-pregnancy to infancy.

I’m not saying my other non-academic public health friends don’t discuss these topics, it is just we discuss this topic in great detail.

For instance, emerging research is showing that the preconception period and the prenatal environment (life in the uterus) have profound effects on fetal development. Therefore planning a pregnancy doesn’t just encompass making sure you get the correct vaccines during your pregnancy, but making sure you keep up to date with you immunizations long before you decide to even have a child.

Read more…