Copyright Sanofi Pasteur
On Thursday of this week the number of Measles cases in the Swansea area of Wales rose to almost 700, making it the largest outbreak in the UK for over ten years. Health officials have urged parents to take their children to specially set up vaccination centres in the hope of preventing the outbreak from escalating when children return to school next week.
One of the biggest factors in this outbreak has undoubtedly been the number of parents refusing to have their children immunised because of fears over the safety of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. Since its introduction in the UK in 1988 the vaccine has been mired in a controversy that has split the nation, as worried parents witnessed claim and counter claim about the vaccine’s safety record.
In 1997 my wife and I had our first child, our daughter Aisha. Aisha was born in the midst of a massive loss in public confidence in the MMR vaccine, and as new parents we were anxious to do the right thing for her. In early 1998 we were stunned by the explosive findings of Dr Andrew Wakefield in his Lancet publication that suggested a link between MMR, Bowel Disease and a new form of Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
We were worried sick. What do we do? Do we leave her unvaccinated and risk her suffering the ravages of disease, or do we bite the bullet and give her the shot, risking these terrible conditions? I began to read anything and everything I could find on the subject in the hope that by arming myself with knowledge I could mitigate the risks to our daughter. The first thing to do was to learn more about the vaccine, but what I learned then and have learned since has done nothing to reassure me.
When MMR was introduced in the UK in 1988 two of the three vaccines granted licenses – Pluserix which was manufactured by SmithKline Beecham and Immravax made by Merieux UK Ltd, contained what is known as the Urabe mumps strain. These vaccines were found to be unsafe and were subsequently withdrawn:
“In 1990, scientists from the Queen’s Medical Centre Nottingham found some children developed a form of meningitis after receiving it. But despite this the Government went on using it for more than two years. The Canadian Government, also using the vaccine, immediately switched to a safer version. It was not until September 1992 that the UK Department of Health issued pharmacists with emergency supplies of a safer brand with instructions to withdraw existing batches.”–Sunday Express
In fact, when the British Government granted these licenses, Pluserix, under the brand name Trivirix had already been banned in Canada earlier that year due to links with meningitis, and yet incredibly Britain pushed ahead with its licensing.
The response in Britain to the February 1998 Lancet report was an alarming drop in MMR vaccinations. Dr Wakefield advocated single dose vaccination and across the country anxious parents took this route as a booming business in private consultation and vaccination sprang up, with parents often travelling many miles to take what they saw as the safer option.
In September of 1998 when our daughter was ten months old, the Government revoked the importation licenses for imported single vaccines forcing parents to choose between administering MMR and not vaccinating their child. Why? A satisfactory answer to this question has never been forthcoming, the Government claimed that single dose vaccines were a threat to the MMR program, and yet their actions could only result in fewer children being vaccinated.
As our daughter began to approach the age for vaccination the local healthcare professionals became increasingly forceful in their encouragement to vaccinate. I resisted their pressure, buying time to think. I needed to do the right thing for her, and every instinct told me that the right path did not lead to MMR.
The then Prime Minister, Tony Blair went on television to bolster support for MMR but refused to answer why single doses had been withdrawn. In a further blow to public confidence he refused to confirm whether his own son Leo had had the MMR.
Our minds were made up. We were travelling to Ecuador for a family visit in a couple of months and we resolved to give our daughter the single dose while there. When Aisha had her vaccination she was almost eighteen months old, and we were regularly reprimanded up until then by staff at our local surgery for not having given her the MMR.
Over the next few years a legal case was prepared by lawyers representing the interests of over a thousand children damaged by vaccines in the UK. In 2004 they were six months away from a court date when the government announced the removal of the Legal Aid that was making the case possible. The case collapsed, and with it the hopes of justice for the vaccine damaged children.
An appeal was launched against the decision to deny Legal Aid and was heard in the High Court by Mr Justice Davis. The appeal was denied and the families were defeated, but in 2007 it emerged that the brother of Mr Justice Davis was a non-executive director on the board of Glaxo Smith Kline (formerly Smith Kline Beecham), the very same company that was a defendant in the lawsuit.
When questioned about the conflict of interest in the case Mr Justice Davis claimed he had been unaware of his brother Crispin’s interest in GSK at the time of the judgement.
In May 2008 it was reported in the Daily Telegraph that under New Labour plans, children who did not have the MMR vaccination could be refused a school place, and their parents could face possible cuts in child benefit. The threat was met with almost universal condemnation and was never implemented.
So what of Andrew Wakefield? In 1998 he seemed to us a force for good, standing up to the establishment and bravely speaking the truth in contrast to the bullying and coercion of the Government. The Lancet publication had been endorsed by twelve other doctors at the time, but all but two of them renounced the paper and he endured his own fall from grace.
Four years after publication of his paper all attempts to reproduce his findings had failed and the Lancet issued a partial retraction of it in 2004. Things were to get worse for Dr Wakefield when an investigative reporter, Brian Deer, discovered that Dr Wakefield had undisclosed conflicts of interest, had manipulated evidence, and had broken ethical codes.
The Lancet issued a full retraction of his paper in 2010, and in May of that year he was found guilty by the General Medical Council of serious professional misconduct and struck off the medical register. His Lancet paper is now widely regarded as fraudulent and his reputation damaged beyond repair.
Andrew Wakefield moved to Texas, US, in 2001 and currently holds the position of Director of Medical Interventions for Autism.
In another disturbing twist, the owner of the Lancet was none other than the same Crispin Davis who was brother to Justice Davis, who ruled against the parents to GSK’s advantage. Crispin took up his directorship of GSK in July 2003, and issued the first retraction of Wakefield’s work the following year.
GSK, or Smith Kline Beecham as they had been known had continued to market Pluserix after it was withdrawn in the UK anywhere they could get a license, despite the concerns over its safety. In 1997 it was used in a mass MMR vaccination program in Brazil resulting in many cases of death from meningitis.
If you read the papers in Britain today, you will read in almost every article connected with this story the statement that there is no link between MMR and Autism. If you go to Wikipedia and research this link you will be told that:
‘the scientific consensus is that no evidence links the vaccine to the development of Autism’
On the same page Wikipedia states:
‘A special court convened in the United States to review claims under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program rejected compensation claims from parents of autistic children.’
In the United States all claims for compensation due to vaccine damage are heard through the Office of Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims commonly referred to as the vaccine court. The website vactruth.com recently published details of the case of Ryan Mojabi, who doctors and the vaccine court have agreed has suffered encephalitis and Autistic Spectrum Disorder following the MMR vaccination. Ryan has been awarded $969,474.91 in compensation which will be administered through the National Vaccination Injury Compensation Program (NVICP).
You can view the award at:
So where does all of this leave us on MMR? My wife and I are now thankfully past this concern with our own children, but I am left with a deep feeling of mistrust over this issue, and I am seriously bothered by how determinedly the message that MMR is safe is being rammed down our throats at every opportunity.
I am not against vaccination; I am in favour of choice. I believe that if a parent wants to exercise their right to pay for single vaccines then why the hell not? I don’t know if Andrew Wakefield was right, if he has been the victim of a smear campaign, or whether his downfall was a just outcome for a man who deceived the world for his own personal agenda.
The truth is that nobody comes out of this sorry mess with their reputation enhanced. This saga has more layers to it than an onion. Ultimately whoever you believe is telling the truth is almost irrelevant. If you live in the UK it’s the MMR or nothing – there are only two choices. But what a terrible and lasting shame it is, that they took away our third.