This was originally posted at http://africanjungle.iblog.co.za/ on July 9th, 2010.
In my previous post, I wrote about Wakefield and the GMC Hearing and Verdict. In this post, I will write about the consequences of Wakefield’s lies and of the actions of the anti-vaxxers.
After Wakefield had released his original study in 1998, numerous independent researchers investigated the purported MMR-Autism link in an attempt to confirm it. None was ever able to find a statistically significant difference between the autism rates for vaccinated and non-vaccinated populations. Wakefield recently claimed that his results had been confirmed independently by five different studies. Blogger Sullivan of Left Brain Right Brain took a closer look, and found that Wakefield was yet again lying. In fact, one of the studies was done by Thoughtful House, the clinic where Wakefield had been based. By contrast, numerous studies failed to find a link.
Every study undertaken costs money. Researchers’ salaries and laboratory rentals need to be paid, and equipment and supplies must be bought. Funding one study means other studies don’t get funded. This is called “Opportunity Cost”. Who knows what might have been discovered about autism had researchers not felt it necessary to investigate the nonexistent vaccine-autism link?
Wakefield’s mendacious “research” enabled the fringe antivaccination movement to hijack autism advocacy and use it as a vehicle to further its own aims. Anti-vaxxers began labelling autistics as “vaccine injured”. It is extremely insulting to anyone to be viewed as damaged goods, yet that is exactly what the anti-vaxxers did to autistics. What is more, numerous quack treatments sprang up to help parents “recover” their children. Most, like the Gluten Free Casein Free diet, were useless and costly but harmless. Some, like chelation, were dangerous. A boy by the name of Abubakar Tariq Nadama died after being chelated.
Anti-Vaxxers falsely claimed that thimerosal, a mercury compound used as a preservative, was a cause of autism. Chelators are chemicals that bind to metals in the body so that they can be excreted in the patient’s urine. They are used in cases of metal poisoning to rid the body of the toxic metal. The problem is that chelators attach to any metal, not just lead, mercury and arsenic. The metal calcium, found in our bones, is also necessary to regulate heartbeat. During chelation, doctors will usually give the patient calcium to replace the calcium removed by the chelator. Nadama’s doctor, Dr. Roy Eugene Kerry, failed to take this step so his heart stopped and couldn’t be restarted. Kerry was later sued by Nadama’s parents. He was also charged with involuntary manslaughter but the charges were later dropped.
Fear that vaccines cause autism led to falling vaccination rates. The inevitable result is that vaccine preventable diseases have returned. In 2006, a 13 year old boy became the first child in the UK to die of measles in 14 years. In 2009, a baby girl named Dana McCaffrey died of pertussis, also called whooping cough. There was a pertussis outbreak in California earlier this year. Ten babies have died so far.
People have begun to realise just how foolish, incorrect and dangerous the antivaccination movement is. In 2008, actress Amanda Peet took her concerns to her brother-in-law, a qualified paediatrician. He was able to reassure her and encourage her to get her young daughter vaccinated. Peet became the spokesperson for Every Child by Two, an organisation founded by former US First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Betty Bumpers that aims to get every child completely vaccinated by the age of two years. More here. Other celebrity mothers like Jennifer Garner and Jennifer Lopez have also become vaccine supporters.
At the start of 2009, Alison Tepper Singer, the mother of an autistic child, was the Vice President for PR and Strategy at Autism Speaks, an antivaccination organisation masquerading as an autism advocacy group. After the first three rulings in the OAP, Singer began to investigate and realised that the vaccine-autism link was false. When she tried to convince Autism Speaks to change direction, there was a huge falling out. Singer either resigned or was fired, and set up the Autism Science Foundation.
This is the last of the Background information posts. If you would like me to blog on anything specific, leave a comment and if it is autism related I will blog about it.