First off, Happy 2012. I’m looking forward to a year that I hope will be better than 2011.
I’m a member of a number of pro-vaccination groups on Facebook, including “Stop the Australian Vaccination Network“, “Dana McCaffery – Whooping Cough Awareness“, “GAVI Alliance“, “Myths of the Anti-Vaccine Movement” and “Jenny McCarthy Body Count“.
A few days ago, there was a discussion on vaccination at the Woodford Folk Festival. Originally, Meryl Dorey, head of the misleadingly named Australian Vaccination Network and self-described “Expert on Vaccinations”, was going to give a lecture titled “Autism Emergency, 1 child in 38”. The ratio refers to a study from South Korea which found that Autism may occur in as many as 1 in 38 people. Her talk would have (falsely) blamed vaccines for this high rate.
The “Vaccines cause Autism” lie started by Andrew Wakefield is one of the reasons why I blog. Potted version: in 1998, Andrew Wakefield had a paper he’d authored published in the british medical magazine The Lancet. In it, he claimed that he’d seen 12 paediatric patients at the Royal General Free Hospital with a new disease he labelled “Autistic Enterocolitis”. In later statements, he expressed “concerns” about the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) triple vaccination. What he didn’t mention was that he’d been hired by a solicitor named Richard Barr who was involved in a lawsuit against the MMR Vaccine, that the twelve children in his “study” were part of the lawsuit, and that he’d been paid over 435,000 pounds for his work. In addition, he was trying to set up companies to make products to profit from the scare he’d generated, including a Transfer Factor that would have been an alternative to the MMR.
In 2004, an investigative journalist named Brian Deer revealed that Wakefield had been paid by Barr to find problems with the MMR Vaccine. In the following years, Deer would also reveal that Wakefield had cooked the data in the study, and that he had made plans to profit from the scare. The General Medical Council began investigating Wakefield and brought charges against him and two other co-authors of the report (John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch). on the 28th January 2010, a Fitness to Practise hearing found 32 charges against Wakefield proven. Five days later, The Lancet retracted Wakefield’s paper in its entirety. A few months later, Wakefield was sentenced to be permanently struck off the Medical Register. Wakefield did not appeal, and the striking off is now permanent. If you want more details you can put “MMR and Autism” into the Search Box. I wrote a whole series of posts on it.
After a highly public outcry and a series of complaints to the festival organisers, the format was changed. Meryl Dorey instead had a debate with Professor Andreas Suhrbier, head of the immunovirology laboratory at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. The session was chaired by Dr John Parker from “Doctors without Borders”.
Stop the Australian Vaccination Network decided to give Dorey’s opponents a helping hand. A team of our members went to Woodford and handed out flyers refuting Dorey’s claims. In addition, 34 Stop AVNers put up AUS$2,800 for “Operation Nutcracker”. A plane trailing a banner with the message “Vaccination Saves Lives” overflew the Festival for the duration of the debate.
Dorey has put a brave face on things, but there can be no doubt that this was a smack for her. She didn’t get to give a talk, and her false claims about vaccination were challenged by a genuine expert.