Two Guardian articles appear today on Andrew Wakefield and his associates. The first is a discussion of his unethical and invasive methods used in his now-debunked study that purported to show a link between autism and the MMR vaccine.
Vulnerable children were subjected to “inappropriate and invasive” tests by a doctor who prompted one of the biggest health controversies of the past 10 years, it was alleged today.
Andrew Wakefield, who linked the MMR vaccine to autism, was described at a General Medical Council (GMC) fitness panel as having breached “some of the most fundamental rules of medicine”.
She claimed one of the 12 children was given an “experimental substance” which had not been subjected to the necessary safety checks.
Dr Wakefield was accused of trying to patent the substance to be used both therapeutically and as a vaccine.
The three doctors did not comply with rules set by the hospital’s ethics committee on how the research should be carried out.
“As a result of that, very vulnerable children were subjected to inappropriate and invasive treatment,” Ms Smith said.
Ms Smith pointed to breaches of “fundamental rules in medicine” such as the requirement to declare conflicts of interest.
A key claim is that Dr Wakefield accepted Â£50,000 from the legal aid board for research to support parents’ attempts to fight for compensation.
That payment, to produce evidence to assist parents fighting MMR litigation, was a direct conflict of interest with the results of the study he then published in the Lancet, Ms Smith claimed.
The panel heard yesterday that Dr Wakefield was accused of paying children Â£5 for blood samples at his son’s birthday party and then joking about it afterwards – one of 40 charges levelled against him.
The 50-year-old doctor was said to have showed “callous disregard for the distress and pain” that he knew or ought to have known the children might suffer as a result of his actions.
With any luck, he’ll be “struck off” as they say in Britain, meaning he’ll lose his medical license.
The second, from the always excellent Ben Goldacre, is an expose of the Observer’s bizarre coverage of an emerging epidemiological study on autism which suggests that possibly inaccurate results were leaked to further disparage the MMR vaccine.
But where did the facts come from? I contacted the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge: the study the Observer reported is not finished, and not published. The data has been collected, but it has not been analysed. Unpublished data is the antithesis of what science is about: transparency, where anyone can appraise the methods, and the results, and draw their own conclusions.
But in fact, the two “leading experts” who were concerned about MMR, the “experts”, the “leaders in their field”, were not professors, or fellows, or lecturers: they were research associates. I rang both, and both were very clear that they wouldn’t describe themselves as “leading experts”. One is Fiona Scott, a psychologist and very competent researcher at Cambridge. She said to me: “I absolutely do not think that the rise in autism is related to MMR.” And: “My own daughter is getting vaccinated with the MMR jab on July 17.”
She also said, astonishingly, that the Observer never even spoke to her. And in the Observer’s “readers’ editor” column one whole week later, where the Observer half heartedly addressed some of the criticisms of its piece, the Observer persisted in claiming she believes MMR causes autism: it believes it knows the opinions of this woman better than she knows her own mind. Despite her public protestations. The only voice that Dr Scott could find – bizarrely – was in the online comments underneath the readers’ editor piece, where the Observer continued to call her an MMR “dissenter”, and where she posted an impassioned and slightly desperate message, protesting her support of MMR, and threatening legal action.
That’s one of the leading experts. The other is Carol Stott. She does believe that MMR causes autism (at last). However, she is no longer even a “research associate” at the Autism Research Centre.
Carol Stott works in Dr Andrew Wakefield’s private autism clinic in America, which the Observer failed to mention, and she was also an adviser to the legal team which failed in seeking compensation for parents who believed that MMR caused their child’s autism, which the Observer failed to mention. She was paid Â£100,000 of public money for her services. She says her objectivity was not affected by the sum, but even so this seems an astonishing pair of facts for the Observer to leave out.
What the hell is happening over at the Observer? I’m curious to see the results of the study, but strongly doubt the 1:58 figure for autism prevalence will hold up.