Doctor who created MMR vaccine scare could lose his license

Britain's General Medical Council has ruled that Andrew Wakefield—the doctor who created the MMR vaccine/autism scare by heavily promoting the results of his own poorly conducted research, even long after other scientists had proven his claims to be wrong—"failed in his duties as a responsible consultant". The Council will decide at a later date whether Wakefield will be stripped of his medical license.

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  1. I would say in most cases that criticism and caution for vaccination are a good thing. It keeps things in a check and balance mode for the big companies. BUT when you have to get out of your way to make false and dangerous allegations such as making bogus connections between vaccines and autism it becomes a tragedy for everyone.

    If you really want to see what a world without vaccination looks like just go to an under developed country. I urge you to look at the shocking survival rates of babies, where it can be up to 25% fatality before the first month. In developed countries 1/4 baby deaths would cause mass public out rage.

    It’s so funny, we live in a world where everything is made from a mixture of exotic chemicals and yet we blame the vaccines???

    1. If you really want to see what a world without vaccination looks like just go to an under developed country. I urge you to look at the shocking survival rates of babies, where it can be up to 25% fatality before the first month.

      Health in underdeveloped countries would be better if:

  2. Good. Seriously, the guy has caused immeasurable damage to the general health and wellbeing of children. Not only did he fake his work, he was taking money from lawyers representing parents who were suing MMR vaccine makers. AND he had patented a competing vaccine.

    All this nonsense, of course, has killed children and promoted general anti-vax silliness that is still gaining strength.

  3. He should not just lose his license; he should go to prison. He won’t, though. Probably won’t even lose his license.

  4. LOL, at first I thought this headline said “Doctor Who created MMR scare…etc” as in the television show. Too bad the article was much sadder- bad science can ruin lives.

  5. But doesn’t this just PROVE it’s a conspiracy, and that the government has aliens in Roswell which caused the earthquake in Haiti with their telekinetic powers? I mean think about it!

  6. As the father of an autistic child, I really hate it it when you “arm chair critics/philosophers” pass judgment on something or someone without all the facts being taken into account. It wasn’t the vaccine itself he criticized, it was the thimerosal in it. As mercury is a known neurotoxin, he was correct in pointing out the dangers. Due to his efforts, these vaccines are now made without thimerosal, and packaged in single use vials, as opposed to multi use vials, which is where the thimerosal was used. But you didn’t know this, did you? Big pharma didn’t publicize it because of the legal ramifications. But that, in a nutshell, is the whole story. Personally, I think the man deserves a medal.

    1. as an autistic scientist i’m telling you to just stfu. seriously. you’retrying to spread your own fear and ignorance like a virus. stop it.

      1. No, I’m not. If you actually read what I wrote, I said it was his actions that made the formula change, and THAT is what I commented on, and I stand by that. The vaccine is SAFER as a result. Did it cut the instances of autism? No. I never said it did. Did I advocate not being vaccinated? Again, no. S, Mr. tstc scntst, y r flmng trll, nd fl srry fr y, tht y fl th nd t dmn smn tht spks th trth.

        1. Sea Daddy, where is the truth in thimerosal ever having caused any damage? There is none. The removal of thimerosal has been widely publicized, so you are wrong on that account as well. You accuse others of “passing judgement”, when they are simply illuminating the facts of the matter. By the way, being the father of an autistic child does not give you instant authority on the subject. In this case, it’s apparent that your emotions have got the upper hand on you. Please sit in your own armchair, relax, and try to evaluate this matter with reason rather than emotion.

        2. I too echo the commenters above who said this guy probably belongs in prison. Not for publishing a bad article — bad articles are published all the time — but because, when he started to see the results of what his theories would produce, he didn’t look at the further research/do his own further research and stop the proliferation of dangerous nonsense.

          What he did is no different than shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. Or rather, not admitting that the fire wasn’t there after hundreds of scientists arrived and pointed out there was no fire.

    2. @Sea Daddy – so, autism rates dropped after thimerosal was removed, right? (Answer: No. No, they didn’t.) Vaccination rates dropped, though, as a result of Wakefield’s dishonesty.

      As the father of a two-year-old now surrounded by unvaccinated kids, I really hate it it when you “arm chair critics/philosophers” pass judgment on something or someone without all the facts being taken into account.

    3. As an autistic adult I really hate it when lazy people like you, who can’t be bother to do any research at all beyond instantly believing the most dramatic claims in the crank press, display their ignorance.

      “Thermisol” (you spelt it wrong) was removed from vaccines here in Canada in 1996. Since then studies by Fombonne et al. have shown a significant increase in autistic spectrum births. So I guess we should be putting it back in, right? Ooops, co-incidence does NOT equal causality. But then crank scientists like Wakefield, whose work has never been replicated once by anyone, wouldn’t know that.

      Wakefield’s original paper that started the scare
      http://briandeer.com/mmr/lancet-paper.htm
      (for those of you too lazy to look it up yourselves) didn’t mention themisol. or neurological tissue damage. It talked about specific GI tract changes that he claimed to have found. No one else has found these changes, his experiments are crap and he continued to bally-ho his results long after this was widely proven: continued with a clear, undisclosed profit motive for doing so.

      The only medal he deserves is one from the Grim Reaper for re-introducing measles in the UK. How about some posts from some parents of children who were scarred for life because of this?

      BTW – the other offensive aspect of all of this is the unexamined hypothesis that the autistic viewpoint has something wrong with it other than the mindless bigotry of the people who don’t share it. An increase in autistic births? Good! More of us; less of you.

    4. “It wasn’t the vaccine itself he criticized, it was the thimerosal in it. As mercury is a known neurotoxin, he was correct in pointing out the dangers. Due to his efforts, these vaccines are now made without thimerosal, and packaged in single use vials, as opposed to multi use vials, which is where the thimerosal was used.”

      I suggest you check your facts. Wakefield never talked about Thimersol or made any claims about it. Thimersol was linked to autism in the US and was entirely separate from Wakefield’s claims. Wakefield attempted to link the MMR vaccination with autism. He was funded by a group of lawyers who were attempting to sue the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine.

      By the way, the amounts of Thimersol in the MMR vaccine were absolutely tiny. Far below the levels at which the Mercury they contain is considered even remotely a neurotoxin.

  7. Sea Daddy, Wakefield’s original 1998 Lancet paper made no mention of thimerosal, presumably because the MMR vaccine which was the subject of the study had never contained thimerosal.

  8. The quality of psychological testing has improved vastly in the last twenty years. I wonder if there is any correlation between better testing and the growing number of autistic spectrum disorders,(Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome,et all.)being reported?

    Regardless Dr Wakefield McShittypants is a foul charlatan of a scientist who’s pseudo intellectual conspiratorial crap threatens my existence through the reemergence of once controlled illnesses.

    1. Yes. I would not hesitate to suggest that increased testing has resulted in increased diagnosis. When I was growing up (70’s/80’s) a lot of the kids that were called “socially awkward” would likely be diagnosed with some form of spectrum disorder now.

  9. Stop lying. Thimerosal, which is properly spelt “mercury” or “hydrargyrum”, has not been removed from vaccines.

    http://www.physorg.com/news172252051.html

    Why anyone would shill for thimerosal is totally beyond me – all it does is allow the medical-industrial complex to realize infinitesimally higher profits from the production of vaccine while polluting the water table.

    1. You’re being misleading. Stop it.

      What the other posters were talking about was the MMR vaccine, which, really, no longer contains thimerosal/thiomersal. And, as tdberg points out, it was removed as a political gesture, not because of science. And thimerosal/thiomersal is NOT properly spelled “mercury”, not actually being 100% mercury.

      If you’re interested, you can see exactly which vaccines do and don’t contain it here: http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/SafetyAvailability/VaccineSafety/ucm096228.htm#t3

      Most of them don’t.

      I’ll also point out that thimerosal/thiomersal is used because it is an excellent and inexpensive preservative. That doesn’t just mean more money for big pharma. It also means affordable vaccines that can survive storage in and travel to the poor and needy parts of the world where vaccines are a matter of everyday life and death.

      Nobody here is shilling for big pharma. But thimerosal/thiomersol isn’t evil.

      1. “That doesn’t just mean more money for big pharma.”

        Vaccines are fairly cheap as far as medicine goes. Something like $3 a shot – of which you generally only need one or two. The big money drugs are things like lipitor, anti-depressants, and erection drugs – which you generally need to take every day for the rest of your life.

    2. “…all it does is allow the medical-industrial complex…to help keep people alive” it that what you meant to say?

  10. It’s amazing to me that this story persists, when its supporters have no coherent argument.

    Wakefield’s “study” had nothing to do with thiomersal. As others have mentioned, the MMR vaccine has never been preserved with thiomersal. Allegations of a link between thiomersal and autism have been made primarily by Mark Geier, who claims to have found a population-level correlation, even though he apparently has no familiarity with basic methods of epidemiology.

    Thiomersal is not mercury; it contains mercury, about 49.3%. Several studies have shown that ingested mercury completely clears from the brain within two weeks.

    Some vaccines still do contain thiomersal. The CDC and the AAP recommended that vaccine manufacturers stop using thiomersal. This was a political recommendation, and was not based on science.

    Once and for all, there is literally no evidence whatsoever that thiomersal or routine childhood vaccinations are linked in any way to autism spectrum disorder. Say it with me: literally no evidence to support this hypothesis.

    1. “Several studies have shown that ingested mercury completely clears from the brain within two weeks.”

      Sources?

  11. Say it with me: literally no evidence to support this hypothesis.

    OK. Literally no evidence to support this hypothesis.

    I am paying extra for LED light bulbs to avoid buying mercury-containing CFLs. I have paid extra for decades in order to avoid mercury amalgam in my teeth – I used to have to pay for gold, now I get cheaper plastic. I save all my old light switches and relays in the hopes of being eventually able to recover the mercury in them.

    For me, this has nothing to do with autism. It’s about pollution, specifically mercury processing and its attendant pollution. I happen to like birds and fish more than I like buying hookers and cheesesteaks for medical-industrial complex moguls.

    So, explain to me again, why the absence of evidence is reason to extract mercury from its geological resting place and spread it throughout the human environment?

    So that vaccine companies can make more money? Ah, I thought so. History repeats itself… pardon me while I fire up a DDT-soaked Marlboro in a lead-painted cigarette holder. There’s no evidence, etc. We certainly shouldn’t spend the money to eliminate thimerosal from vaccines, since it might cost almost as much as thirty milliseconds of American military adventuring, after all, and would only benefit nearly every living thing on the planet for millenia. Reducing demand for mercury is clearly a bad thing.

    1. Do you think an increase in cost of the vaccine would really result in a decrease in profit for the manufacturer? I don’t. I think they would just mark the vaccine up more. If anything it would likely increase their profit as a total dollar amount since they would try to maintain a similar percentage margin but it would be on a larger dollar amount.

      And, as pointed out, this is completely tangential since the MMR vaccine is what is under discussion, not H1N1 that you linked to.

      I share your concern about mercury in our environment. I applaud LED bulbs. But please do not use incandescent instead of CFL over mercury concerns, as there is more mercury released burning coal to power incandescent bulbs than is contained in a CFL bulb. And the CFL can be recycled – the mercury released in burning coal can not. (I say this coming from a US state that gets the vast majority of its power from coal. Other locales might not be in the same situation.)

  12. For those freaking out over the mercury-based preservative: time to start slapping tuna sandwiches out of people’s hands.

    I don’t have my figures handy right now, but the amount of mercury in a shot of the few vaccines that use thiomersal is in the neighborhood of a can or two of tuna. Further I’m told that thiomersal contains ethylmercury, while tuna has methylmercury. The latter is worse for you and stays in your body a lot longer.

    So if you think thiomersal vaccines are bad, you should be calling Child Protective Services whenever you see a kid eating tuna.

    1. For a few of us, the point is to keep the mercury out of the tuna, and we think the vaccine companies are successfully using cases like this (and the H1N1 frenzy) as a way to convince the public that mercury dissemination is not really a problem, and re-introduce thimerosal into their products. That was certainly my point, anyway.

      There is not any mercury in MMR vaccines. There is not any evidence linking autism and thimerosal at this time, although there has not been enough research of genetic susceptibility factors connected to autism to prove that there isn’t a connection between onset of autism and environmental factors that could include practically anything (including vaccination and bad heavy metal music).

      But Maggie, we don’t need to poison the tuna in order to provide vaccines to the third world or any other world. Vaccines can be made without any mercury at all and we have the money to do so. I have not allowed my children to receive mercury-tainted vaccines, and I’ve vaccinated them against all the life-threatening childhood diseases.

  13. Take a look at the graph at the bottom of this BBC article. See that drop in MMR uptake? And the spike in cases of measles? That’s what happens when herd immunity drops. It’s a perfect object lesson in why vaccinations are mandatory.

  14. People who want the lowdown on Wakefield should read Paul Offit’s book Autism’s False Prophets.

    His science qualifies as “not even wrong.”

  15. Great. Here are the Google ads in the bottom of the BBC article:

    Thoughtful House Update
    Find Out the Latest About Dr. Andrew Wakefield
    http://www.thoughtfulhouse.org

    (That’s the quacknest where Wakefield is raking in money off the parents of autistic kids.)

    1. Even the comments condemning Wakefield here are far too generous. I recommend anyone interested in the story take a look at Brian Deer’s superb investigation.

      Here are just some of things Deer unearthed which Wakefield apparently thought didn’t constitute conflicts of interest when he sought publication in 1998 of his study which concluded single vaccines should replace the MMR:

      In February 1996 Wakefield was hired by lawyer Richard Barr to help in a lawsuit against MMR vaccine manufacturers claiming it damaged children.

      11 of the 12 children who took part in the study were plaintiffs represented by Barr.

      In June 1997 Wakefield applied for a patent on a ‘safer’, single measles vaccine.

      Barr paid Wakefield a total of £435,643 (no, it’s not a typo) for his services.

  16. Readers of the Bad Science blog will know that, as guilty of malpractice as he may be, Wakefield is also a handy scapegoat for the media circus that made such a fuss over research that could be readily seen to be so poor.

    Oh, and I see Ben Goldacre’s already commented on today’s news:

    Even if it had been immaculately well conducted – and it certainly wasn’t – Wakefield’s “case series report” of 12 children’s clinical anecdotes would never have justified the conclusion that MMR causes autism, despite what journalists claimed: it simply didn’t have big enough numbers to do so. But the media repeatedly reported the concerns of this one man, generally without giving methodological details of the research, either because they found it too complicated, inexplicably, or because to do so would have undermined their story.

    As the years passed by, media coverage deteriorated further.

  17. Wakefields quality of work hardly gets up to the quality of telephone surveys. His work is NOT science in any form.

    It’s good to see that he may eventually get his comeuppance.

    As a father of two and a cognitive science major I have studied this and my kids got the MMR after our pseudoscience loving friends tried to scare us (I am fortunate enough to know how to find this kind of research and judge it adequately myself).

    @SeaDaddy:
    It’s very simple. Even if Wakefields research was worth the paper it’s printed on (which it isn’t) the likely hood he gives of your child getting autism from an MMR shot is way lower than the chances of your child dying from the diseases the shot protects against (if vaccination stops). We’ve already seen more DEATHS in the UK than the predicted cases of autism due to this. We can thank Wakefield for these children dying.

    And I can understand wanting to have something to blame for your child’s autism, but it’s just not that simple, and theories abound as to the reason for autism.
    This is a special interest for me due to personal reasons, and you can bet that I’ve looked through the research available. One of the least likely candidates is vaccination. Hormone fluctuations (testosterone overdose), food sources (contamination), other environmental sources and such during pregnancy are all more likely.

    Understanding, and being able to judge the validity of, research papers takes some training but is totally worth it. With that training you would hardly get through Wakefields abstract without throwing up a little in you mouth.

  18. Sea Daddy, http://www.boingboing.net/2010/01/28/doctor-who-created-m.html#comment-699552, you are incorrect about Wakefield and thimerosal, on two counts.

    1. Wakefield was silent on thimerosal. Irrelevant anyway, because the MMR vaccine didn’t contain thimerosal.

    2. Wakefield’s false claim was thatmeasles antigens from the vaccine somehow stuck in the gut and caused something he called “leaky gut syndrome”. The ruling today is relevant to (a) how he falsified research and (b) used highly unethical research techniques on minor children.

    On to the next point:

    One of my blogging habits is to collate pro and con posts on a particular issue.

    One reason to do is that each blog has its own set of commenters and often the comments reveal aspects of the issue previously not considered elsewhere.

    Today’s issue is the UK’s General Medical Council’s ruling on Andrew Wakefield.

    I’ve included this post in the list.

    The list can be found at

    http://lizditz.typepad.com/i_speak_of_dreams/2010/01/andrew-wakefield-dishonesty-misleading-conduct-and-serious-professional-misconduct.html

  19. GOOD GOD! You people are still going at this? The moderator (Antinous are you the moderator for the whole site or, just Corrie and Maggie, or just bad anti-vaccine people stories?) and maggie sounding like someone’s Episcopalian parents? Yes, bad doctor. I just don’t get the insistence on this subject. First Corey, now this one. This is so masturbatory, I mean masturba-story. Oooh, throw in a bone, look at the scrum. You’ve all just been chum-ed.

    Take note dissenters! Don’t dissent, well against them anyways……and if you must, just don’t. Even when you can’t get a hold of an anti-vacciner you go for the no mercury dude? WEIRD…..

    1. If you’ve got young kids and you live in an area where vaccination rates have dropped to 80%, like me, this is a big fucking issue that needs to be up front and in peoples faces.

      That said, please don’t combine metaphors from our posts.

  20. This is a little OT since it doesn’t really concern the doctor, just his dupes.

    I personally feel that the parents any unvaccinated child diagnosed with the target disease of the missed vaccination should be guilty of a crime and fined accordingly.

  21. Does anyone else read:

    “Why anyone would shill for thimerosal is totally beyond me – all it does is allow the medical-industrial complex to realize infinitesimally higher profits from the production of vaccine while polluting the water table.”

    and think precious bodily fluids?

  22. Surprised no one has yet pointed out to Sea Daddy that there are different kinds of mercury, Ethyl mercury and Methyl mercury. The distinction is very important.

    Thimerosol contains only ethyl mercury, which is flushed out of the body rather quickly, making it an ideal preservative for vaccines injected directly into the muscle tissue, like MMR. The kidneys constantly filter such elements out of the bloodstream so they can be passed out of the body in a matter of hours.

    Methyl mercury is the bad stuff, highly toxic in large quantities that lingers in the body for a long time when ingested in foods like contaminated fish. Methyl mercury introduced into the digestive tract is absorbed by the body through the stomach and intestines and takes much longer to excrete, and if contaminated fish is a regular component of the diet, the amount of methyl mercury can quickly accumulate to toxic levels, causing neurological damage.

    This is why thimerosol was used as a preservative for so long, and no scientific studies ever suggested it was harmful. What has been harmful about the removal of thimerosol from many vaccine formulations is not just the increase in unvaccinated children world wide, but the millions of doses of vaccine that are now wasted because of reduced shelf life and more restrictive temperature ranges necessary for safe vaccine storage. The costs of vaccines have skyrocketed over the past 10 years because they are more difficult and expensive to transport and store, especially in third world countries where electricity sources and refrigeration are unreliable.

    Thank you, Dr. Wakefield, for not only endangering children in the UK, but endangering millions of impoverished children all over the globe.

  23. I think the majority of intelligent folks have known this for a while now. While quacks like this, need to be held responsible, people have to quit believing every word someone says just because they have an M.D. after their name.

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