The Evil That Men Do Lives After Them

When I’ve written about the non-existent link between vaccines and autism before, I’ve done so without a lot of anger. I can understand how parents would be worried enough about the effects of vaccines to not have their kids vaccinated, even though the antivax movement in the end is a very bad thing.

It turns out I’m glad I saved my anger for Andrew Wakefield and what he did.

THE doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found.

Confidential medical documents and interviews with witnesses have established that Andrew Wakefield manipulated patients’ data, which triggered fears that the MMR triple vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella was linked to the condition.

In 1998, Wakefield, along with 12 others, published a paper in the Lancet suggesting a link between autism and the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine. Wakefield began crusading against the MMR vaccine. The result? Last year England and Wales had 1,348 confirmed cases of measles. Back in 2000 they had 100. That’s a ten-fold rise in the rate of measles. And it’s not an isolated incident. Here’s what the English measles rate looks like from 1996 to 2008.

Rate of Measles cases in England and Wales from 1996 to 2008

Look at that trend upwards from the last few years. It’s especially infuriating to look at MMR immunization rates over the same period.

Rate of Measles cases in England and Wales from 1996 to 2008 versus MMR immunization rates

The magic inoculation rate for measles is from 83% to 94%. At those rates you see significant herd immunity, and measles can’t really get a toehold. England and Wales has been at the bottom of that range or lower since 2001. The country is potentially experiencing the infectious disease version of compound interest thanks to some seven years of low immunization rate.

It’s not just Wakefield who’s to blame. He may have helped start the panic, but the English press put the megaphone in his hand. It’s great that The Sunday Times’s investigation uncovered Wakefield diddling the data, the cardinal sin of the scientist. Would it have been as necessary had The Times itself not been part of the pack raising the alarm during 2002.

If you’d really like to be depressed about all of this, take a look at the Holford Watch’s summary of the entire mess.

(Note: all data for the graphs above taken from the Health Protection Agency, the UK semi-equivalent of the US Centers for Disease Control.)

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