Anti-vaxxers Score Own-Goal in Defense of Wakefield
The anti-vaccination movement took some spectacular body-blows this week.
First their hero Andrew Wakefield was thoroughly spanked by Britain’s General Medical Council for “unethical, dishonest and callous” behavior, after a two-year investigation into his conduct during the period he was carrying out research on developmentally disabled children.
Then, in a rare move for a respected medical journal, The Lancet officially retracted his long-discredited 1998 study—the one that fueled concerns about the MMR vaccine and autism.
As if this weren’t bad enough, the predictable hue and cry from anti-vaccinationists claiming Wakefield is being scapegoated has included some surprising own-goal admissions from some of their most prominent spokespeople.
Kim Stagliano, managing editor of anti-vax blog Age of Autism appeared on CNN to defend Wakefield and the failed vaccines-cause-autism hypothesis, saying that the study never claimed to prove a link between MMR vaccination and autism.
This fact is repeated in the Wakefield apologia written by Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy (published at Age of Autism):
“Despite rampant misreporting, Dr. Wakefield’s original paper regarding 12 children with severe bowel disease and autism never rendered any judgment whatsoever on whether or not vaccines cause autism…”
True. Or, rather, truthy.
While the paper’s published conclusion contained the statement that it “did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described” [what Wakefield later termed “autistic enterocolitis”], the authors added:
“We have identified a chronic enterocolitis in children that may be related to neuropsychiatric dysfunction. In most cases, onset of symptoms was after measles, mumps, and rubella immunisation. Further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome and its possible relation to this vaccine.”
Moreover, in a subsequent video news release and at a press conference to held to publicize the paper, Wakefield made no bones about his feelings:
“…I have to say that there is sufficient anxiety in my own mind of the safety, the long term safety of the polyvalent, that is the MMR vaccination in combination, that I think that it should be suspended in favour of the single vaccines, that is continued use of the individual measles, mumps and rubella components.”
So, are Stagliano, Carrey and McCarthy admitting that Wakefield misrepresented his study’s findings?
And if, as anti-vaxxers protest, the retraction of the paper is no big deal, since it never said MMR caused autism anyway, why is it listed on Generation Rescue’s “14 Studies” website as one of the studies “that helps support a connection between vaccines and autism and other disorders”?
And why does Generation Rescue’s analysis state:
“This study demonstrates that the MMR vaccine triggered autistic behaviors and inflammatory bowel disease in autistic children”?
A statement from Generation Rescue (“Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey’s Autism Organization”) published on Age of Autism in support of Wakefield starts by vilifying pharmaceutical companies and mentions the “thousands of parents” who feel their children regressed after MMR vaccination.
Later, they note that Wakefield’s study never told parents not to vaccinate.
Yet they conclude:
“Dr. Andrew Wakefield is perhaps this debate’s greatest hero. He’s a doctor who has held onto the truth, unbowed, through pressure that would break most mortals. Dr. Wakefield’s influence in saving other children from the fate that befell so many children is incalculable.”
If Wakefield’s study didn’t tell people not to vaccinate, how did Wakefield “save” these children, and from what “fate?”
Let’s see if I can summarize Generation Rescue et al’s position:
The retraction of Wakefield’s Lancet paper means little in the debate over vaccines and autism because it never said MMR caused autism, even though it “demonstrated” that MMR “triggered” autistic symptoms, so Dr. Wakefield is a hero for saving kids from MMR-induced autism because he fearlessly published a paper that didn’t tell people not to get their kids the MMR vaccination.