The Wakefield MMR/autism dismantling demonstrates what a difference one journalist can make

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The BMJ’s statement this week that the 1998 article by Andrew Wakefield and 12 others “linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent” demonstrates what a difference one journalist can make. Journalist Brian Deer played a key role in uncovering and dismantling the Wakefield story.

(Of course, others recently have said something similar about The Daily Show comedian Jon Stewart’s role in focusing on the health problems of 9/11 first responders.)

Unfortunately, journalism played a key role in promoting Wakefield’s claims. The “Respectful Insolence” blog referred to one journalist as CBS’ resident anti-vaccine propagandist. Around the world there were many other examples of journalists’ unquestioning acceptance of the vaccine scares.

The BMJ reminds us that “the damage to public health continues, fuelled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals, and the medical profession.”

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January 6, 2011 at 11:30 pm

That does not address my objection that with a sample size of twelve the results are not statistically significant. With such a small sample size you can by chance get any result. You can just as easily get a positive result or a null result independent of what the actual effects
are. In other words the result are meaningless. This is not the way to do scientific research.

Megan Taylor,MD FAAAI

January 7, 2011 at 8:45 am

While there is no dispute as to the benefits of vaccination, there are individuals who have untoward side effects from vaccines that are documented in the literature. The press is overwhelmingly concerned with presenting a unilateral view of how black and white vaccines are. The US wants the vaccination program to be successful and there can be a sense of panic if the public believes more harm than good would come from an immunization. Illnesses can cause encephalitis(brain injury) which can cause brain damage and death. Vaccination can prevent these and many other terrible problems.
However, it is imperative that concerns after an immunization are clearly reported to your primary care physician immediately and reported to the VAERS reporting system and that you follow up using the instructions on the vaccination sheet that is provided by law with each vaccination. Read the forms and do not discard them. No individual or physician should feel threatened or feel that they have to minimize a reaction or try to rationalize it away without a report because of a feeling of condemnation. One persons junk science does not equate with there are no side effects from vaccination. For example, measles vaccination can cause thrombocytopenia. This needs to be reported as do all untoward reactions after vaccination. With the fair reporting of diverse reactions , we will better be able to advise different Genetic subpopulations in the future as to the most safe approach for the individual as well as the community.
Autism is a disorder with many causes-some Genetic diversity, some birth/prebirth injury, etc. Some brain injury has autistic features. Features are part of a “behavioral”-Psychiatric diagnoses which is “Autism”.
The recent Medpage , condemning Dr. Gupta, the prominent unbiased medical reporter for not speaking up after spreading the report that has been again recently disseminated about Wakefield’s “junk” science on measles vaccination causing Autism is unfortunate for the Medical Community. The article is very antagonistic toward Dr. Gupta as a physician. I believe that his lack of response is an objective response as he is trying to fairly understand all the literature and I suspect that he does not feel that speaking up in this forum is responsible reporting. . He should not be condemn like this in a public forum for being objective.
All medications have a side effect in some individuals. Vaccinations have helped eradicate horrific diseases. Never feel antagonized into not reporting what you feel is an untoward reaction to a vaccination in an individual and working with you medical team to come up with the best solution to your problem.
Megan Taylor,MD


January 10, 2011 at 6:22 am

The role of the lawyers in helping should not be ignored here.Their actions deserve to be called into question. Read the article… is astonishing how many millions of public money were wasted by their actions.

Cindy Keenan

January 13, 2011 at 10:42 am

Any chance you’ll consider another perspective? I’m the parent of a child with autism and the following is a statement distributed by SafeMinds. I encourage you to read the studies cited at the end of this statement.
Autism Advocacy Organizations and Parent Groups Support Dr. Andrew Wakefield Urging Both Scientists and Journalists to Do More Thorough Research Into Vaccines and Autism
Last week, an article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), written by a freelance newspaper reporter, Brian Deer, created a media firestorm in the United States. In his article, Brian Deer accuses Dr. Andrew Wakefield of deliberate fraud regarding his 1998 case series, which was published in the British journal, The Lancet. Dr. Wakefield reported that the children in his case series were suffering from a novel form of bowel disease and that parents reported a temporal link between the onset of symptoms and receipt of the MMR vaccine. Contrary to what has been reported in the media over the years, Dr. Wakefield never stated that the MMR vaccine caused autism. The full text of the original paper is available at
These libelous accusations are based on the flimsiest possible construct. Deer claims fraud on the basis of differences between the case histories in the Lancet study and the children’s private medical records which Deer obtained under questionable circumstances. Since the team at the Royal Free Hospital never had access to the children’s private medical records, it was impossible for them to know what was in them and, therefore, impossible for them to fraudulently report something different. It is standard practice in medicine for a specialist seeing a new patient to take a new history. Of the parents involved in the original study, none have made any complaint, at any time, against Dr. Wakefield. In the case of the only parent we can confirm Brian Deer actually spoke to, Deer used false pretenses and the alias “Brian Lawrence” to obtain the interview. The parent did not turn over any medical records to him.
The undersigned autism organizations, representing thousands of parents, are deeply disturbed by this most recent character assassination of Dr. Andrew Wakefield. This is an attempt to discredit a doctor who has been extraordinarily courageous in treating and researching children suffering with both bowel disease and autism. He has paid a high personal price for his refusal to walk away from children who are suffering and has earned the utmost respect from the families of these children. We believe this is an industry-driven attempt to shift public attention away from legitimate concerns about vaccine reactions and the development of autism. Science, even controversial findings, should not be distorted by fear or greed.
The truth in this story is that Dr. Wakefield’s findings of bowel disease in association with autism have been replicated (see references) and his work along with that of other doctors has advanced the treatment of these children to the point that the journal, Pediatrics, has published a paper on the treatment for gastrointestinal symptoms in children with autism. The issue of whether MMR is causal for this subgroup of autistic children remains an open question. The epidemiological studies that claim to prove there is no link between the MMR and autism have not had the statistical power to rule out a link for a subset of susceptible children. Much study remains to be done. Attempts to “shoot the messenger” will only result in further erosion of public trust.
Parents of children with autism encourage the media to dig deeper and provide comprehensive investigations and balanced reporting. For more information or to schedule an interview please contact Rebecca Estepp 858-829.6454
Age of Autism
Autism Action Network
Autism Media Channel
Autism One
Autism File Global
Autism Research Institute
Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy
Generation Rescue
National Autism Association
Schafer Autism Report
TACA-Talk About Curing Autism
The Autism Trust USA/UK
The Coalition for SafeMinds
Unlocking Autism
The following peer-reviewed papers support Dr. Wakefield’s original findings:
Furlano R, Anthony A, Day R, Brown A, Mc Garvey L, Thomson M, et al. “Colonic CD8 and T cell filtration with epithelial damage in children with autism.” J Pediatr 2001;138:366-72.
Sabra S, Bellanti JA, Colon AR. “Ileal lymphoid hyperplasia, non-specific colitis and pervasive developmental disorder in children”. The Lancet 1998;352:234-5.
Torrente F., Machado N., Perez-Machado M., Furlano R., Thomson M., Davies S., Wakefield AJ, Walker-Smith JA, Murch SH. “Enteropathy with T cell infiltration and epithelial IgG deposition in autism.” Molecular Psychiatry. 2002;7:375-382.
Wakefield AJ, Anthony A, Murch SH, Thomson M, Montgomery SM, Davies S, Walker-Smith JA. “Enterocolitis in children with developmental disorder.” American Journal of Gastroenterology 2000;95:2285-2295.
Ashwood P, Anthony A, Pellicer AA, Torrente F, Wakefield AJ. “Intestinal lymphocyte populations in children with regressive autism: evidence for extensive mucosal immunopathology.” Journal of Clinical Immunology, 2003;23:504-517.
The following peer-reviewed papers replicate Dr. Wakefield’s original findings:
Gonzalez, L. et al., “Endoscopic and Histological Characteristics of the Digestive Mucosa in Autistic Children with gastro-Intestinal Symptoms”. Arch Venez Pueric Pediatr, 2005;69:19-25.
Balzola, F., et al., “Panenteric IBD-like disease in a patient with regressive autism shown for the first time by wireless capsule enteroscopy: Another piece in the jig-saw of the gut-brain syndrome?” American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2005. 100(4): p. 979- 981.
Balzola F et al . “Autistic enterocolitis: confirmation of a new inflammatory bowel disease in an Italian cohort of patients.” Gastroenterology 2005;128(Suppl. 2);A-303.
These are the articles on treatment of gastrointestinal symptoms in autistic children:
Buie T, et al. Pediatrics. 2010 Jan;125 Suppl 1:S19-29. Recommendations for evaluation and treatment of common gastrointestinal problems in children with ASDs.
Buie T, et al. Pediatrics. 2010 Jan;125 Suppl 1:S1-18. Evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of gastrointestinal disorders in individuals with ASDs: a consensus report.