Saturday, September 10, 2011

An ethical dilemma? Measles vaccine or not?

     Andrew Wakefield is a former British surgeon and medical researcher who published articles which he said related Measles vaccine as a cause of a new form of inflammatory bowel disease he called autistic enterocolitis. Medically there is not such a disease recognized. He also said that the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine may have caused autism in children who received it. There is absolutely no evidence that such is case. Multiple blinded medical studies have been done and there is no evidence of any kind of a causative relationship. Others have suggested that the mercury (thimerosol) used in some vaccines as a preservative and antiseptic could be toxic to infants and might play a role in causing autism. Again multiple studies have been done looking for such a connection. None was found. Now thimerosol is only used in tiny amounts in influenza vaccine. It is not used in an other vaccines that are given routinely to children
     Multiple lawsuits have been filed in all directions. Dr. Wakefield's article which was found to have tampered with results, unethical recruitment of study patients, invasive and harmful tests performed on study patients without approval of ethics committee among other more minor but still significant problems with the data. There was even evidence suggesting that Dr. Wakefield was paid by a legal group to produce this article, that he had applied for a patent for a single Measles vaccine which he stood to make money from should MMR become suspect and be withdrawn, and also a test kit for this supposed new form of inflammatory bowel disease.      .
     Wakefield's conclusions were broadcast in the media worldwide and resulted in fear of children's vaccines and a drop off of the vaccination rates. It is estimated that MMR vaccination rates in Britain dropped from 92% to 73% in the late 1990s after Wakefield's press conference raising the concerns about MMR which he raised in his article in Lancet, the British medical journal. The effect was less in the US but it is still estimated that as many as 125,000 children born in the late 1990s in the US also were not vaccinated due to this scare. Many children therefore got sick and some died from complications of measles. The lawsuits have subsided. Lancet retracted the article and 10 of the 12 coauthors of the original Lancet article withdrew their support for the conclusions. Wakefield left England after losing his medical license to practice there. He is still trying to do research in the US and is still claiming that his research was honest, that there was no deceitful data changes and that there is still a reason to be concerned about the MMR. He still has a small group that supports his conclusions. But the greater medical and scientific community agrees that he is a fraud and there is absolutely nothing to fear with MMR and a bowel disease or autism or any developmental behavioral problems.
     What does all this mean for society? How can one man and at best a very bad medical study, at worst a completely fraudulent publication perpetrated in order to make money have such a broad effect on medical care world over? I recall a few years ago when my grandson started daycare, my daughter in law was concerned. She knew there were some parents of children at the daycare who were not vaccinating their children because of just these fears. She then had concerns about her own infant who would be at this daycare and subjected to exposure to these children and their possible illnesses before our grandson's own vaccinations would have had a chance to take effect. It does become a personal issue when a family member might be involved. This is sort of like the Ponzi scheme of medicine. It doesn't affect people's wealth but instead may affect children's lives. It is true that every area of human endeavor has its bad people who don't care about doing harm to others, whose self interest outweighs any concern for others. However, it is particularly heinous when that person is in the field of medicine. People generally tend to trust their own doctor and by inference the medical profession at large. They would normally believe these allegations coming from a researcher and printed in a prestigious journal like Lancet. Of course, they would react with fear concerning their own children. The legal system and the medical self policing system (British Medical Council, Lancet) and the media itself have more or less shown Wakefield for what he is, but there are still concerned parents out there who don't know the whole story and still wonder. What else could we have done? We are limited in a free and just society in order to protect the rights of the innocent. But I sometimes wonder if the rights of the fraudulent and the criminal are protected too strongly in our Western democracies. What do you think? Send me some comments. Let's get this comment section going!

1 comment:

  1. I am just testing the comment section to make sure it is working. Yup, it is. Go to it. RenRae