Thursday, 24 June 2010

Andrew Wakefield is a discredited quack


I’m writing to all of you because I’m very concerned at the choice of content in the latest magazine I’ve seen.

There are five pages discussing immunisation. Four of these are used by practitioners who have a clear financial interest in stoking concern over the use of immunisation, with one of the writers even attempting to resuscitate debate over Andrew Wakefield.

Just a reminder: Wakefield has been struck off. He’s been censured by the BMA. His article on autism and MMR has been withdrawn by the Lancet. Ten of the twelve co-authors have now disowned the article and the research. No-one, in extensive research, has been able to support his linking of MMR and autism.

The presentation of the two longer articles and the magazine itself very clearly attempt to suggest that there is a debate over the efficacy and value of vaccination, and also using shameful quackery to stoke fear and uncertainty among readers – I wonder that we didn’t see a suggestion that the four humours actually govern our resistance to infection. Just a couple of examples of the poor, inconsistent reasoning in the articles by Halvorsen and Donegan:

1. Jayne Donegan states “...the WHO states that [apart from clean drinking water] no other health intervention has reduced disease and mortaility as effectively and safely as immunisation” and then goes on to suggest that vaccination is pointless: “the mortality rate for tuberculosis fell no differently in countries [that did use BCG versus those that didn’t].”
2. Frankly, she’s a homeopath, which has no scientific basis, whatsoever – just like her lame, cosy “if you give your children ... time and love they will be much more resistant to disease ...”
3. “If children are ... given lots of clear fluids, and their fevers and mucus let flow ...” – perhaps she’d like to re-introduce the four humours as a theory of medicine? Or maybe real doctors, when seeing an ill child, stick corks in every orifice?
4. “She’s the only doctor in the country whose opinion on vaccination has been tested in legal proceedings.” Who cares? I want my doctors to have opinions tested in science, by their peers
5. For Halvorsen, measles, mumps and rubella are just brief obstacles in childhood – according to him, vaccinating against mumps in childhood makes you more likely to get it as an adult!
6. He’s also red hot on aluminium in vaccines – do you think people maybe research the effects before they put these additives in? Does he bother indicating what he thinks constitutes acceptable levels of aluminium? No, he just likes spreading a bit of fear, uncertainty and doubt, so lucky NCT punters can hop along to his dedicated children’s immunisation service.
7. Vaccine damage payments unit paid out 1,367 times between 1978 and 2005. So, in 27 years, when we probably dispensed 50m or more vaccinations, That’s about 0.0027%. In fact, even if they’d paid out 10 times that number it’s still less than 0.03%. Wouldn’t that be a more meaningful statistic to tell worried parents?
8. “The risk of developing asthma is halved if the first DTP vaccine is delayed... ” Halved from what? Is it already such a low risk that by admitting this, his argument is rendered meaningless?
9. MMR. The “campaign” to discredit Wakefield? What a shameful piece of journalism. Wakefield is a discredited researcher, disowned even by the co-writers of the paper.
10. “The increasing number of vaccines given to babies may be contributing to the rapid rise in numbers of children developing immune-related diseases.” At least he’s honest enough to admit there’s no consistent research on this, but then attempts to knock down his straw man by dismissively quoting the department of health.

I’m extremely concerned that NCT Richmond thinks this content is suitable material for our magazine. Quackery like this should have died with the advent of scientific method, and should not be promulgated through magazines like ours. I’d like to know what the branch is planning to do to ensure that, if we want to present alternate views such as these again, we:
a) Don’t pretend it’s a two sided debate with views and facts evenly divided.
b) Make clear the official guidance.
c) Provide proper links / resources, rather than cherry-picking links which only point to (for example) damages claims or negative points.


Tim Lennon.