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Posts Tagged ‘MMR vaccine and autism’

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…

History Is Destined To Repeat Itself With More Measles Outbreaks

March 31, 2016 2 comments

What Have We Learned From Last Year’s Measles Outbreak?

8QgmhZV.jpgLast year the United States experienced a large, multi-state measles outbreak that was largely responsible for 189 measles cases that spread across 24 states and the District of Columbia.  It’s believed that the outbreak started from a traveler who contracted measles overseas and then visited the Disneyland amusement park in California while infectious.  Widespread media coverage of the outbreak helped elevate public concerns related to the dangers of measles infection, the consequences of a growing number of school vaccine exemptions and the risks of disease among those who were too young or medically unable to be vaccinated.

At this time last year, it seemed as though we were experiencing a tipping point; a growing number of people were beginning to realize that vaccine refusal had consequences that could threaten our nation’s public health.  The fact that the personal decisions of a select few people was able to threaten herd immunity and the health of many unsuspecting families and communities was worrisome.

It was believed that more parents (including some who had previously refused vaccines) were seeking and accepting vaccination for their children as a direct result of the outbreak.  However, to determine whether clinicians were experiencing any real or lasting changes in vaccine acceptance, Medscape conducted a survey of vaccine providers to find out.

The survey, conducted in July of 2015, included 1577 physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants who worked in pediatrics, family medicine and public health.  Responses confirmed that the measles outbreaks induced more acceptance of the measles vaccine and vaccines in general.  The survey also indicated that, for some parents, a greater acceptance of vaccines was directly related to the fear of the disease, the consequence of being denied admission to schools, daycares or camps, and a greater knowledge about vaccines as a result of more reading on the subject.  However, in some cases there was no change.

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Results of Medscape Survey Conducted in July, 2015

 

Every Child By Two also experienced a heightened amount of interest in the months during and immediately following the outbreak with a record number of inquiries from parents.  Most were asking for information about the dangers of measles infection and for clarification of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine schedule.  There were many parents who were specifically inquiring as to the possiblity of vaccinating their children before the recommended age in order to protect them during the outbreak.  Shot of Prevention blog posts that included content specific to measles infection and MMR vaccination had record numbers of views in the early months of 2015, and personal stories relating to the outbreak, were widely shared on social media.

One story that drew a lot of attention was an open letter by Dr. Tim Jacks, whose two children had to be quarantined after they were both exposed to measles at a Phoenix Children’s Hospital clinic.  His 3-year-old daughter Maggie had a compromised immune system as a result of fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia (blood cancer), while his 10 month old son Eli had received all his recommended vaccines, but was still too young for his first dose of MMR vaccine.  While neither of his children ended up contracting measles, the frustration he expressed in his letter entitled “To the parent of the unvaccinated child who exposed my family to measles” hit a nerve with a lot of people.

The Focus of Immunization Rates Fades as Cases Dwindle

In reaching out to Dr. Jacks this week, it appears that the attention on vaccinations that was raised during last year’s outbreak appears to have been rather short-lived.  He explained,

“As a pediatrician, I regularly discuss vaccines, exemptions, and last year’s outbreak.  The cold facts and data only reach so many, so my family’s story adds a personal angle to the issue that questioning parents rarely consider.  After the media exposure, many families were aware of our situation.  However today, the measles issue is not on as many people’s minds.  Vaccine exemption is however a hot issue in Arizona.  The Arizona political arena is considering avenues to encourage vaccination and I am hopeful that the coming year will produce progress in that regard.”

Today, a little over a year since the outbreaks began, the good news is that there have only been two reported measles cases so far in 2016.  However, it also appears that history may be destined to repeat itself.

Consider, for example, the reports out just this week about a California charter school student who tested positive for measles after returning home from traveling overseas.  With just 43% of kindergarteners at the Yuba River Charter School being up-to-date on their MMR vaccine, the California Department of Public Health has attempted to prevent a measles outbreak by first closing the school to all students, and then remaining closed to those without a measles vaccine until April 8 as long as no new cases are documented.

Despite overwhelmingly high vaccination rates across the country, with a mere 1.7% national vaccine exemption rate among kindergartener’s for the 2014-2015 school year, and a 90%+ coverage of MMR vaccine among 19-35 month old children, these small pockets of unvaccinated children continue to present a risk of future measles outbreaks. Read more…

Debunking John Stone’s “DeStefano Rides Again” and the CDC “Whistleblower”

January 12, 2016 2 comments
journalsEvery Child By Two is pleased to launch another article in their Expert Commentary series with links to in-depth articles available on the Every Child By Two website.  This series features 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, Debunking Antivaccinationist John Stone and the CDC “Whistleblower”: A Review of John Stone’s “DeStefano Rides Again: GSK Rotavirus Vaccine Study Loses 80% Of Cases And 18 Deaths”

by Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH

I’ve written several articles for Every Child By Two. Each of them shows clearly the poor scholarship, deficient science, and often lack of common sense contained in articles written by antivaccinationists. The bottom line is they don’t know what they are talking about. If people are to decide on whether to vaccinate their children or not, it should be based on scholarly, well-grounded science, and reflect basic common sense, not claims made by people who are deficient in these.

John Stone is the UK editor for the online blog, Age of Autism. In a recent article, Stone writes: 

Frank DeStefano, the CDC’s Director of Immunization Safety and the lead author at the centre of CDC whistleblower William Thompson’s allegations about destroying MMR/autism data, is involved in another case of apparently hiding data, this time involving intussusception and death, in a newly published paper concerning the safety of GSK’s rotavirus vaccine, Rotarix.

Last month, Representative Posey revealed to Congress that Thompson told Dr Brian Hooker in a taped telephone conversation regarding the DeStefano MMR paper that:

Sometime soon after the meeting, we decided to exclude reporting any race effects, the co-authors scheduled a meeting to destroy documents related to the study. The remaining four coauthors all met and brought a big garbage can into the meeting room and reviewed and went through all the hard copy documents that we had thought we should discard and put them in a huge garbage can.

The new CDC based study of GSK’s Rotarix vaccine by Haber et al., of which DeStefano is senior author and therefore responsible for research integrity, admits a small association with the serious condition of intussusception (an intestinal obstruction secondary to the inversion of one portion of the intestine within another). The paper states that from February 2008 to December 2014 the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) “received 108 confirmed insusceptible reports after RV1” (Rotarix). However, a careful review of the database reveals no less than 565 cases for the period. The paper claims to have excluded only 4 reports as unconfirmed (making a total of only 112). (Stone, 2015a; reposted 2015b)

In an Addendum posted a day after the reposting of his article, Stone writes:

I took this article down for 24 hours to consider the points made by “n davis” and “n davis is correct”. I had overlooked the fact that the paper selects US cases only – that there are only a trickle of cases from the US against a relative flood from abroad – and this is basis of massive selection bias, particularly in relation to deaths. It also shows that the US reporting system while always vastly inadequate is wilting. Pharmaceutical companies are required by law to forward reports from abroad where they come to their attention: there is nothing in n davis’s claim that these reports were unavailable to DeStefano – anyone interested in the safety of the vaccine to US children or any other would have considered all of the reports. (Stone 2015c)

Summary

Read more…

No Link Between Vaccines and Autism, but False Belief Persists

A new study, which investigated data from the National Immunization Surveys published between 1995 and 2006, confirms what public health advocates already suspected.  As the Medical Daily blog reported yesterday, the study determined that “Childhood vaccinations decreased in response to the fears surrounding autism risks.”  It’s remarkable that even today, despite the existence of widespread research that fails to show any link between autism and vaccinations, this false belief continues to persist.

Many of the parents I’ve spoken to over the years don’t even realize that the premise for these fears stemmed from a small, but well publicized study conducted by Andrew Wakefield and published in The Lancet in 1998.  Since then, many researchers tried to verify Wakefield’s claims, only to discover that their research proved the opposite.  Study after study failed to show vaccinations were in any way contributing to the incidence of autism.  Then in 2010, after evidence of tampering and undeclared conflicts of interest, Andrew Wakefield was ultimately stripped of his medical license due to the seriousness of his professional misconduct and The Lancet retracted the fraudulent study that first sparked the suggestion of a vaccine/autism link.

But years later the damage is proving extremely difficult to undo.  There are still many people who cling to Wakefield’s study as proof of a correlation.  The latest analysis from the soon-to-be-released study of immunization surveys has confirmed that autism fears have had a negative impact on immunization rates.  The study also presents a few other interesting observations:

  • More children of college-educated mothers were not vaccinated than children of non-college educated mothers, with noticeable spikes in 2003, 2004 and 2006.
  • While the controversy centered on the MMR vaccination, the autism fear had an impact on other vaccinations, to include polio and the combination vaccine to prevent diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

These observations ultimately lead to other relevant questions. Read more…

A Bump in the Road or a Major Detour?

May 25, 2010 1 comment

By Christine Vara

Yesterday morning on the Today Show, Matt Lauer interviewed Dr. Wakefield whose study, published in 1998, sparked a catastrophic collision of the scientific world of vaccines and autism.   To briefly summarize, Dr. Wakefield’s research suggested that the MMR vaccine could cause autism.   Not surprisingly, the publication of Dr. Wakefield’s study resulted in a chain reaction, which sparked controversy and concern amongst parents, scientists, doctors, lawyers and journalists.  Over the years, as detailed by the Associated Press yesterday, numerous studies have been conducted in an effort to verify his findings and yet none has found a connection between autism and any vaccine.  Along the road, a journalist revealed that Wakefield had conducted his research unethically, ten of the study’s authors renounced its conclusions and in February, the study was subsequently retracted by the medical journal who originally published it.  In his interview with Matt Lauer, what Wakefield described as a “bump in the road” was an announcement from Britain’s General Medical Council.  After nearly three years of formal investigation, the council found Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct and stripped him of his right to practice medicine in the U.K. 

What I find disturbing is not simply the fact that this man has been found to be unethical in his practice of medicine.   That certainly may be a bump in the road for Wakefield.  While that is concerning, it’s not nearly as disheartening as the far reaching effects that his now discredited study has had on the public at large – which I consider to be a major detour. 

First off, there are the alarming statistics that indicate that vaccine hesitancy has severely compromised public health efforts in our country as well as others around the world, especially in regards to measlesImmunization rates have fallen, both as a direct and indirect result of Wakefield’s study, leading to a resurgence of diseases in recent years. I have to hand it to Wakefield though.  His one discredited study, with only a handful of patients, has rallied massive support, while follow on studies with thousands of patients disproving his theories remain practically obscure to the general public.  Ask the average parent on the street about vaccines and they will probably be able to tell you that they’ve heard of some link to autism.  What a challenge this presents to our public health advocates who must try to educate people regarding the overwhelming scientific evidence.  Have people come to disregard science so much that they will rally behind one study from a man with such questionable credentials?  Or are people more influenced by coffee-house conversation than by their own chosen medical professionals?

Then there is the careless, yet calculated misstatements that attempt to play on people’s fear of government conspiracy.  Now, I watch my share of movies, but I try to live my life in reality.  So when Wakefield claimed in yesterday’s interview that the U.S. government has been settling cases of vaccine-induced autism since 1991, I had to pinch myself.  While there is a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program that exists, no one has ever been compensated for a vaccine injury that resulted in autism.   The statistics from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation fund are publicly available and are there to comply with full disclosure.  He certainly must know this, so why even suggest otherwise?

Surprisingly, these detours have also hurt the autism community.  Let me make it clear, as a fellow blogger at Squidilicious.com confirms in a recent post, not all parents with autistic children are convinced by Wakefield or his supporters.  They have probably suffered the most.  So much effort has been put into Wakefield’s claims that the suggested autism/vaccine link often overshadows other autism discussion.  When there is so much to learn in regards to autism, it seems a shame that anti-vaccine sentiment has become one of the main rallying cries for certain autism groups.  Why not concentrate our efforts on other autism awareness, resources and research that can truly change the lives of those who live with autism? 

So at the end of the Today Show interview, I was still left wondering whether Matt Lauer and other mainstream media will help to  address the risk of vaccine refusal and help to get the word out regarding the effectiveness of vaccines?  Will anyone respond to Wakefield’s accusations of the government paying out on injury claims linked to autism?  Probably not.  Which is why independent organizations like Every Child By Two are trying to look for a way back to the road of reason.  The road that leads to better health.  The road that should be paved by good science.  Of course, there are bound to be bumps along the way, but we must try to steer clear of any major detours.  As for Wakefield, we can only hope that this scientist, turned advocate, will finally pull off at a rest stop.

LA Times – The damage of the anti-vaccination movement

February 5, 2010 2 comments

By Amy Pisani

Journalist Michael Fumento’s opinion piece in today’s LA Times touches on the ramifications of the 1998 Wakefield study, which was retracted this week by the original publisher, The Lancet.  Fumento writes, “Never mind that by 2008, more than 20 articles published in peer-reviewed medical journals found no connection between MMR vaccine and autism…There’s also a mountain of reassuring evidence regarding thimerosal-preserved vaccines.”   Wakefield’s study, for which he has been reprimanded by the General Medical Council, “set us back a decade, and we’re just recovering from that” according to Mark Sawyer, San Diego-based pediatrician and infectious disease specialist interviewed for the article.

Fumento highlights the fact that some anti-vaccine groups, such as the National Vaccine Information Center, who oppose mandatory vaccines disregard the importance of ensuring herd immunity to protect the unvaccinated.  Fumento interviewed ECBT Spokesperson Danielle Romaguera, whose baby died of whooping cough.  Romaguera asks the public to be aware that their decisions affect other people’s children and diseases do still exist, and can kill.

Read the full story here: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-fumento5-2010feb05,0,3589719.story

Art Caplan: How a zealot’s word led us astray on autism

February 4, 2010 Leave a comment

By Amy Pisani

I encourage everyone to check out  the msnbc.com article by Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, “How a zealot’s word led us astray on autism.” 

Excerpt: ‘The [Lancet] language was probably not strong enough. The Wakefield paper killed children and left others deaf and disabled from preventable diseases as their parents, in an effort to avoid autism, left them unvaccinated.”   

Dr. Caplan, I applaud you, because I completely concur that the Lancet has not done nearly enough to rectify the damage that has been done to the credibility of vaccines worldwide in major part due to their irresponsible decision to print the “research” conducted by Andrew Wakefield.  It doesn’t take a degree in metaphysics to recognize that the outcome of a study consisting of a handful of subjects perhaps does not represent the larger population.  And that was only one in the many, many faults of the Wakefield study, which has never been replicated, try as several researchers might.

Don’t miss this piece, it may be my favorite of the decade!