Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines – The Truth Behind a Tragedy
Andrew J. Wakefield
271 pages, hardback
Reviewed by Katherine Smith
Tonight as I begin writing this review (May 26, 2010) the television news (propaganda) broadcast on NZ’s TV3 carried a story about how Dr Andrew Wakefield has lost his license to practise medicine in the UK. The reporter trotted out a series of damning allegations about Dr Wakefield’s research, stating that his hypothesis that the MMR vaccine could cause autism in some children had been proven to be false in numerous studies involving “hundreds of thousands of children” and blaming Dr Wakefield for creating a lack of confidence in the MMR vaccine that has resulted in the resurgence of measles. She concluded by stating that Dr Wakefield has asserted that he is innocent of any wrong doing and intends to appeal the decision. Her tone of voice communicated her scorn – and gall – that someone as reprehensible as Dr Wakefield dared to refuse to accept the facts of the case and was stubbornly appealing instead.
If mainstream media were your only source of information about Andrew Wakefield, you’d think him a villain. It’s the way he’s generally been portrayed in the media; as an unethical charatan who has abused the trust of both his patients (and their parents) and deceived the general public by casting aspersion on one of modern medicine’s sacred cows – the MMR vaccine.
Given the mainstream media’s coverage of Dr Wakefield’s story and that fact that he was pronounced as having treated his autistic patients with “callous disregard” you might expect that last people to support Dr Wakefield would be the parents of the “Lancet 12″ – the children whose case histories were published in the first article in the Lancet. However, the parents of these children are among Dr Wakefield’s strongest supporters, eight of them writing an open letter to the General Medical Council (GMC) in support of Dr Wakefield and his colleagues Dr Murch and Professor Walker-Smith.
“Many of us had been to several other doctors in our quest to get help for our children but not until we saw Professor Walker-Smith and his colleagues were full investigations [of their long-standing distressing gastrointestinal symptoms] undertaken. We were all treated with the utmost professionalism and respect by all three of these doctors [Prof. Walker-Smith, Professor Simon Murch and Dr Andrew Wakefield]. Throughout our children’s care at the Royal Free Hospital we were kept fully informed about the investigations recommended and the treatment plans which evolved. All of the investigations were carried out without distress to our children, many of whom made great improvements on treatment so that for the first time in years they were finally pain free.”
“We have been following the GMC [General Medical Council] hearings with distress as we, the parents, have had no opportunity to refute the allegations. For the most part we have been excluded from giving evidence to support these doctors whom we all hold in very high regard. It is for this reason we are writing to the GMC and to all concerned to be absolutely clear that the complaint that is being brought against these three caring and compassionate physicians does not in any way reflect our perception of the treatment offered to our sick children at the Royal Free [Hospital]. We are appalled that these doctors have been the subject of this protracted enquiry in the absence of any complaint from any parents about [the treatment of] any of the children who were reported in the Lancet paper.”
It’s a sad day for medicine and the mainstream media when a dedicated doctor like Andrew Wakefield has to write an entire book to set the record straight because so many lies about him have been promulgated by the media.
It’s a sad day for parents of both autistic and normal children when conscientious doctors like Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues are persecuted because they cared enough about their child patients (and their beleagered parents) to comprehensively investigate the children’s condition, in the hope that at least some of their distressing symptoms might be able to be ameliorated.
Of course the persecution of Dr Wakefield and his colleagues wouldn’t have happened except for the fact that they listened to the parents of their patients’ when they took the case histories of the children’s decline into autism – combined with severe bowel symptoms – and found that there was a common factor in the case histories of most of the children: their behaviour had been normal prior to their receiving the MMR vaccine.
Professor Walker-Smith’s team decided the subject was important enough to share with the medical community as well as the general public, and so prepared an article for publication in the Lancet on their initial findings. Even though the original Lancet paper did not state that the MMR vaccine caused the children’s autism and debilitating bowel symptoms, the fact that a team of doctors from the prestigious Royal Free hospital had published research demonstrating a link between the MMR vaccine and autism ignited a storm of controversy that continues until this day.
What’s more, Dr Wakefield was sufficiently concerned by the relationship between MMR vaccination, autism and bowel symptoms that before the publication of the Lancet article he wrote to his colleagues stating that based on their findings and his review of “all safety studies performed on measles, MR and MMR vaccines and revaccination policies…I cannot support the continued use of the polyvalent MMR vaccine. I have no doubt about the value of the monovalent vaccine and will continue to support its use until the case has been proven one way or another of the measles link to chronic inflammatory bowel disease…I will strongly recommend the use of monovalent vaccines as opposed to the polyvalent vaccines. This will not compromise children by increasing their risk of wild infection, and may reduce the risk of apparent synergy between the component viruses that have been identified by Dr Scott Montgomery as a risk for inflammatory bowel disease, and may well be a risk for autism in our children, currently under investigation.”
At the press conference that followed the publication of the Lancet paper, Wakefield accordingly recommended that parents wanting to vaccinate their children against the measles choose the single measles-only vaccine (which was on the UK market at the time) rather than the MMR.
Callous Disregard reveals that the case brought against Dr Wakefield by the GMC was instigated by a complaint from freelance journalist Brian Deer. Brian Deer is a author of a number of factually incorrect articles about Dr Wakefield and his work, one of which was the subject of a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). The PCC required that Deer’s articles be removed from the website of the Sunday Times – and the articles were temporarily removed, but then reinstated in defiance of the PCC ruling.
Dr Wakefield also identifies Professor Tom MacDonald as a malign force behind the scenes, working hand-in-glove with Brian Deer in the journalist’s ruthless campaign to discredit Dr Wakefield and his work – regardless of the facts of the case. MacDonald is a scientist who previously worked with Dr Walker-Smith’s team but declined the opportunity to transfer to the Royal Free Hospital. Wakefield states that MacDonald “reportedly vowed to his boss to destroy my career.” Wakefield cites notes from a meeting between MacDonald and GMC lawyers who were vetting MacDonald as a witness, that state that MacDonald “believes Wakefield is a charlatan” intent on winning a Nobel prize and that “Wakefield’s alleged link between measles vaccine and Crohn’s was entirely fabricated in order to obtain publicity for this reason.” MacDonald also acted as a witness for the defendants in the MMR litigation in both the USA and UK.
Dr Wakefield also became involved in the legal aspects of the MMR issue, explaining his decision in a letter to his colleagues:
“The future for the children with whom we are dealing is very bleak indeed. Not only are the provisions for these children within the community inadequate at present, but looking ahead to the future, there will come a time when the parents of these children die, and the patients, as chronically disabled adults, left to fend for themselves in an extremely hostile world. Were there any long-term institutions left for such children then that is where they would end up. Since these hospitals are being closed on an almost weekly basis, these hopeless individuals will be left to ‘care in the community’. One does not like to imagine how it will all end, maybe their only hope is in people taking the possible organic basis of their disease seriously enough to investigate it and institute the appropriate therapies where possible.
“Vaccination is designed to protect the majority, and it does so at the expense of a minority of individuals who suffer adverse consequences. Although the case against MMR is far from proven, it is one that we are obliged to investigate in view of the consistent history given by these patients’ parents and by the observations made in the United States. If this disease is caused by the MMR vaccination, then these children are the few unfortunates that have been sacrificed to protect the majority of children in this country. If this is the case, our society has an absolute obligation to compensate and care for those who have been damaged by the vaccine for the greater good. This is an inescapable moral imperative and is the principle reasons that I have decided to become involved in helping these children pursue their claims…I feel I am obliged to…support these children. Without our help, I genuinely believe that the medical profession would otherwise have put them to one side, as it appears to have done in many cases already. My present fears for these children are much less than the horrible imaginings if they do not receive the appropriate help that is due them at this stage. However, I am an optimist, and I believe that this project will turn out to be both enlightening and rewarding for all those who have been involved, and I am most grateful for your help and encouragement.”
Dr Wakefield devotes a considerable number of pages in his book to refuting various allegations made by Brian Deer. In his Afterword, “Ethics, Evidence and the Death of Medicine” (co-written with James Moody Esq.) he states:
“The [GMC] prosecution proceeded on the basis of a preconceived assumption of guilt rather than conducting a fair and thorough investigation. Perhaps this whole GMC case has not been an honest effort to protect patients but politically motivated scapegoating after all?…Perhaps this is just one part of an ongoing campaign to stop research into the safety of the MMR and vaccines on the one hand, and on the other to conceal the appalling refusal of the NHS [National Health Service] to provide proper care for autistic children with severe GI problems, which is itself an egregious violation of basic medical ethics.”
According to the editor of the Lancet, Richard Horton, the UK Health Secretary (who holds a position equivalent to that of the Minister of Health in New Zealand and Australia) had urged the GMC to do what it could to “investigate Wakefield as a matter of urgency”. It speaks volumes about the commitment of the British Health Secretary to the health of the British people that he would push to have Dr Wakefield investigated, rather than the MMR vaccine.
Given the powerful vested interests of the vaccine manufacturers, for whom the MMR vaccine was extremeIy profitable, it was probably inevitable that pressure would be brought to bear on Dr Wakefield and his colleagues.
One of the manufacturers of MMR vaccine is Merck (MSD). Merck is infamous for its antiinflammatory drug Vioxx (rocoxefib), which caused heart attacks and strokes. It was eventually pulled from the market, but not until it had caused an estimated 27,000 deaths in the USA alone. Signficantly, Merck reportedly spent several spent years covering up the adverse effects of Vioxx so that it could continue to reap the profits of the extremely popular drug. According to Callous Disregard, during this time, the publishing house Elsevier (owner of the Lancet and five hundred other publications) set up five fake medical journals. These journals appeared to be reputable scientific journals, however, they were funded by Merck and designed to favour Merck’s products. Moreover “Merck itself circulated an internal memo that suggested corporate policy on Vioxx included seeking out dissenting doctors and destroying them where they live.”
(A good overview of Merck’s activities may be read at the following link:
New Zealand readers may already be aware that it is Merck’s MMR vaccine that is injected into New Zealand children – at the taxpayer’s expense. (In New Zealanders, there are no accurate statistics for the frequency of autism spectrum disorders but it is estimated that 1/100 New Zealanders now suffer from an autistic spectrum disorder.)
Several weeks ago I had the privilege of interviewing Dr Wakefield (over the phone) from his home in Texas, where he now lives. Until recently he was working as a consultant for Thoughtful House, an autism treatment centre in Houston. However, after the GMC hearing stripped him of his license to practise medicine in the UK, he left this position.
Dr Wakefield is one of the third generation of his family to graduate from medical school. He speaks precisely, in measured tones and his voice has a very British gravitas. He sounds like the sort of person who has never jumped to a hasty conclusion in his life.
We spoke for an hour about his work and its ramifications.
“I have lost my job, my home and my country”, he said early on in the interview, when I told him that mainstream media in New Zealand was portraying him as an irresponsible charlatan, while other reports I had read suggested that his motivation was pecuniary self interest. Despite the personal price that he has had to pay, he didn’t sound bitter. (In his book he declares that it has “always been a privilege working on behalf of children with autism and their families” and that “The damage done to my reputation and to that of my colleagues as well as the personal price for pursuing a valid scientific question while putting the patients’ interests above all others is trivial compared with the impact of these falsehoods on the children’s access to appropriate and necessary care.”)
I asked Dr Wakefield about the allegations that he had profited handsomely from his work on the MMR-autism relationship, as had been alleged by freelance journalist Brian Deer.
Not so, Dr Wakefield said. The 60,000 pound grant had been paid to London University Medical school and handled properly.
“And the 435,000 pounds you were allegedly paid by the Legal Aid Board for your work as a medical expert in the MMR lawsuits?”
The 435,000 pound figure was exaggerated, Dr Wakefield told me, adding “I never saw a penny of the money”, and going on to relate how his dream had been to set up a gastroenterology research centre at the University of London. All the money that he was paid by the Legal Aid Board (LAB), he therefore donated to an initiative to fund the creation of this centre through commercialisation of intellectual property owned by the medical school but funded by Dr Wakefield. Then the MMR-autism controversy meant that he was forced to leave his academic position at the university. The research centre was not established.
“What happened with the lawsuits?” I asked Dr Wakefield. “The results of these cases weren’t reported in NZ.” Dr Wakefield sighed and explained that he had been working on the case for about a year when he had received an unexpected phone call from a representative of the Legal Aid Board.
“If you were to go to court tomorrow, would you win?” asked the LAB representative.
Dr Wakefield was flummoxed. He didn’t see the relevance of the question.
“We’re not going to court now. We’re going to court in a year,” he replied.
“But if you were to go to court now, would you win?”
“We’d probably win on bowel disease.”
“Probably not. There’s more research we need to do yet.”
Funding for the court case, Dr Wakefield told me was stopped the following day. Lacking the research data to prove that the MMR could cause autism the plaintiffs lost their case.
“So the autistic children didn’t receive any compensation?” I asked.
“Nothing.” Dr Wakefield confirmed.
(In case you are wondering why the Legal Aid Board, a government funded body, stopped funding litigation that could result in vaccine-damaged children receiving compensation, one possible reason was that it was not the MMR-manufacturers who were the defendants in this case, but the British government. In 1988 a deal had been made between the Department of Health to indemnify UK vaccine manufacturer Smith Kline Beecham after their MMR vaccine “Trivirix” had been withdrawn from the Canadian market due to unacceptably high rates of adverse effects. It was then renamed “Pluserix” and licensed in the UK where unsuspecting British parents were encouraged to have it injected into their children.)
I told Dr Wakefield about how (in the early 1960s) the New Zealand Department of Health had purchased a polio vaccine that was contaminated with the monkey Simian Virus 40 (SV40). The vaccine had been manufactured in Canada, but was not licensed for use there. The NZ Health Department had ignored the advice of its own virologist, who had warned against the vaccine’s use, as even at that time, SV40 was known to cause tumours. New Zealand now has a cancer epidemic. Practically no research is being conducted in this country to determine how much of a role SV40 may be playing in this ongoing national tragedy.
Dr Wakefield contributed to the recent case of how vaccines against rota virus – a virus that can cause gastroenteritis, especially in young children, had recently been found to be contaminated with porcine [pig] retroviruses. When the first rotavirus vaccine had been found to be contaminated, it was withdrawn from the market. Then porcine retroviruses were discovered in a second manufacturer’s rota virus vaccine. The FDA reacted promptly. However, it did not withdraw the second rota virus vaccine from the market. It allowed its manufacturer to continue marketing this contaminated vaccine – and also gave the manufacturer of the first contaminated rota virus vaccine permission to put its product back on the market. The FDA justified these decisions with the excuse that there was no evidence that porcine retroviruses could cause any ill effects in vaccine recipients.
“Porcine retroviruses have the potential to integrate into vaccine recipients’ DNA,” Dr Wakefield said. “It’s disgraceful to allow vaccines that are contaminated with porcine retroviruses to be injected into children.”
“Disgraceful” is a word that you don’t hear that much in conversation anymore – or even in public discourse – despite, or perhaps because, of the growing corruption of many facets of modern life.
“Disgraceful” is a word that I remember Dr Wakefield using several times during the interview. It is clear that unlike a large proportion of the modern inhabitants of the Western world who have accommodated to the general decline in ethical standards, or indeed decided to exploit the growing moral vacuum for personal gain, Dr Wakefield has not abandoned the central precept of the Hippocratic Oath: “First do no harm.”
It is not an easy time to be a physician of conscience. Dr Wakefield is realistic about the agenda driving modern medicine. Drug discovery, he says, is in decline; there are no new “wonder drugs” in the pipeline and the patents for many commonly used medications are expiring, threatening substantial reductions income streams. Big Pharma has accordingly pinned its hopes on vaccines. The industry cannot afford adverse publicity about vaccines that could affect public confidence in their products. If vaccine uptake remains high, the manufacturers’ profits will be high, and will remain so since any immunity from vaccination is temporary at best, necessitating regular “booster” shots to augment declining immunity.
“My experience,” [in bringing the MMR-autism link to the attention of the medical profession and public, and his subsequent persecution] writes Dr Wakefield, in the first chapter of his book “serves as a cynical example to discourage others. As a consequence, many physicians in the United Kingdom and the United Sates will not risk providing the care that is due to these children. There is pervasive and openly stated bias against funding and publication of this work, and I have been excluded from presenting at meetings on the instructions of the sponsoring pharmaceutical company. This episode in medical history has been an effective exercise in public relations and selling newspapers. But it will fail – it will fail because nature cannot be deceived.”
Dr Wakefield’s book may be purchased from his website www.callousdisregard.com
The website also has updates on the MMR-autism issue and links to interviews with Dr Wakefield.
Its research page http://www.callous-disregard.com/research.htm includes downloadable PDFs of some of the key studies demonstrating a link between MMR and autism.
Postscript: The Daily Mail has recently published an article reporting that Dr Wakefield’s hypothesis is now supported by new research being conducted at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, USA. See: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-388051/Scientists-fear-MMR-link-autism.html for details.