Making a difference

The BBC has graphics illustrating the rise in measles outbreaks in England and Wales. It’s scary.

Measles is back and causing outbreaks in England and Wales.

It is a nasty and potentially fatal disease. It is also one of the most infectious viruses around.

Before vaccination there were hundreds of thousands of cases in epidemic years, but the disease was effectively eradicated in the UK after the MMR vaccine was introduced.

However, in 2012 there were more than 2,000 cases of measles in England and Wales – the highest figures for two decades.

Gee, how did that happen?

The current spread of measles is in stark contrast to a decade ago, when there were only a handful of cases. Measles was once effectively eradicated, with the only cases being those imported from abroad.

However, vaccination rates plummeted after, now discredited, claims of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism by Andrew Wakefield. It started in 1998, but the debate intensified and MMR uptake reached its lowest levels in 2003-04.

As the number of unprotected children increased, so did the number of cases.

One guy. I wonder if he’s proud of himself.


  1. TaylorMaid says

    Do you think he admits to himself that he’s a fraud? Or does he believe his own bullshit?

  2. Jenora Feuer says

    Last I heard, Wakefield was blaming the British government for not taking up the single-strain Measles-only vaccine he was pursuing a patent on.

    So, yeah, he’s proud of himself, or at least bullshitting to cover the sour grapes over the amount of money he didn’t make by controlling the only remaining measles vaccine after discrediting the then-standard one.

  3. lordshipmayhem says

    His own vaccine and the payment he was getting from litigation lawyers seeking to get tonsadough from the maker of the MMR vaccine in product liability cases. Apparently the one lawyer was also a leading light in the British homeopathy society, but I can’t confirm that.

  4. Jenora Feuer says

    Yes, he was being paid to discredit the vaccine by lawyers who were representing people who thought the vaccines had caused their children’s problems. Wakefield also changed the data; the data in his Lancet paper doesn’t match the data from the original hospital reports on some of the children, including (from what I recall) changing the timing of reports in one case so that the symptoms which actually occurred before the vaccination were post-dated until after it to bolster his case.

    I’d guess he knows damn well he’s a fraud, but he also realizes that if he admits that, the whole cult of personality that has grown up around him as the ‘brave maverick doctor’ will collapse like a ton of bricks, and there will go his easy ride and the money he’s making now touring the anti-vax speaking circuits.

  5. AsqJames says

    One guy? Well I guess you could say he was the spark, but plenty of others fanned the flames and continued to heap fuel on the fire.

    The scare didn’t really take off in the media until the Blairs had a son (Leo) while Tony was PM. Whether prompted by Wakefield or one of his ant-vax cronies, or just to create a story and fill column inches, some journo decided to ask the Blairs whether the new baby would be/had been vaccinated. They refused to say, and that’s when it all blew up into a big deal.

    Some, probably many, of the people demanding to know about the private health records of a baby couldn’t have cared less about vaccinations, autism or any other health issue. The right wingers would use anything they could to bash the Labour leader, and by this time those on the left were fairly disillusioned with Blairite New Labour. So there was plenty of motivation to manufacture a “debate” in some sections of the media.

    Of course once the “debate” got going, once it became a big story, everybody else had to cover it too, and it was mostly the political reporters, lifestyle/feature writers, commentators and generalists who got to write the copy. I mean this was a BIG story, it was political and everybody has an opinion which should be aired. We can’t just leave it to the science/health specialists.

  6. markr1957 says

    It is so sad to hear that this disease has made a come-back thanks to the greed of one doctor. When I was a child the vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella weren’t available, and I had all three (unfortunately getting the mumps at the worst possible time – shortly after reaching puberty).

    Nobody needs to be put through the misery of any of those illnesses, and no parent deserves to have a child suffer or die from an entirely preventable disease. Wakefield should be tried and convicted for criminal negligence at a bare minimum.

  7. great1american1satan says

    It’s clear The Lancet has zero commitment to the truth. I remember that they were the only source anyone ever had to reference for Iraqi civilian deaths for a long time – this nice round number of 100,000 dead. Where did they get their numbers from when people in other agencies had nothing to go on, and why was that even theirs to report on, as a medical journal? I never supported the Iraq war, but with people tossing around bogus numbers, they made my side look dishonest. Fuck ’em for it.

    I mean their retraction and disavowal of Wakefield’s shit is easy enough for them to make now, but the damage is done. We don’t accept, “Shucks I’m sorry” from someone that accidentally kills people when firing a gun randomly into the air. If I needed a citation about a subject and the Lancet was the obvious best source for it, I’d keep looking.

  8. Maureen Brian says

    Here’s the Lancet’s paper of October 2006 to which you have full access, great1american1satan, and in which they describe their methodology –

    Having not done this sort of thing since I was an undergraduate, I am not qualified to pronounce upon how they did it but you may wish to do so.

    You will also recall, I’m sure, that the questions about numbers of excess deaths arose because, though international law dictates that an occupying power (or powers!) becomes responsible for keeping track of such data Donald Rumsfeld decided he was not in occupation – just there for the weekend and doing a little recreational shooting until the plane home was ready.

    Any given set of figures collected after the event may be right, may be wrong which is why they are supposed to be collected contemporaneously. Unlike the WMDs, though, they were not pulled out of someone’s arse nor agreed upon before anything actually happened.

  9. latsot says

    As horrific as Wakefield is – you’ll never find me cutting him any slack – he wasn’t acting alone. Our media were complicit and indeed mostly to blame. There were thousands of articles in the papers and on TV that pretended Wakefield had something useful to say: first without journalists bothering to check it out; later long, long after he was proven wrong and was struck off the medical register. By ‘long after’, I mean more than a decade. Our media are *still* occasionally dragging up this story, starry-eyed and pretending they don’t know the truth or the history. Yeah they do.

    The BBC was among the worst offenders. I lost count of how many times the BBC’s flagship morning news show, Breakfast, reported that there might be some problems with the MMR vaccine, even very recently. Over the years, it has hauled in half a dozen star-struck GPs to help pretend there are some issues with the vaccine. They have uncritically interviewed people like McCarthy.

    Wakefield sparked off this nonsense here in the UK and internationally. I personally blame him for lots of illness and death. But I blame the UK media more. It knew the truth and published lies. Because the lies sold papers and they cared more about that than the actual, you know, truth.

  10. latsot says

    @great1american1satan Good to know that you dismiss the Lancet as a credible journal. I’m sure we all care more about your personal concerns than what actually happens to be true.

    Are you genuinely saying that the lancet is not a credible source of information because you personally think that one paper might not be completely right

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