Tuesday, 17 July 2007

It's the truth Jim - But not as we know it.

How the media (in this case the BBC) misdirect, even as they present the facts. The main 6 pm UK BBC News on Monday the 16th ran the story of Dr Andrew Wakefield who raised questions over the safety of the Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine.

He is in trouble with the UK General Medical Council (GMC) over the matter and is up on charges brought by them of acting ‘unethically and dishonestly’. Something he and his colleagues strenuously deny.

The background is: He, together with two colleagues, published a research paper in the Lancet in 1998 that raised the possibility that the new MMR vaccine was linked to both autism and the bowel disorder Crohn's disease.

The Government and medical establishment have repeatedly rejected the suggestion that there was any increased risk to the new vaccine.

Now regardless, of the merits, or not, of the current case, for the moment let’s look at the BBC reporting of it. Really look at the way it was put together.

The BBC report showed a graph indicating the drop in the take up of the MMR vaccine against an increase in the incidence of measles and explained it in these terms, the strong implication being that Dr Wakefield and his colleagues had been responsible for what amounted to almost a measles epidemic and a child had died. Practically a mass murderer then…

I shall not go into the careful phrasing of the propaganda report, that suggested that there could be no question the vaccine was not safe as houses and had a certain hint of ‘scientific consensus’ about it in a massive body of evidence.

They even trotted out a Mother (and indeed, who should know better?) who told us all that her G.P. (General Practitioner, or Dr) had ‘assured her the MMR vaccine was perfectly safe’. Much more convincing than all those parents who had turned out demonstrating in Dr Wakefield’s favour.

It may be the BBC were only repeating what they had been told. In that case the researcher in this case may also be interested in purchasing some attractively fancy looking shares in a Bolivian gold mine I can make available to them at short notice - as soon as the ink has dried.

The fact is those who had concerns about the new joint vaccine had wanted to ensure that the previous single vaccines continued to be available for parents to request, precisely in order to avoid any risk of epidemic.

It was actually the Government and the medical establishment that made it almost impossibly difficult to obtain the single vaccines and effectively forced parents to choose between the new MMR vaccine, or no vaccine at all.

Despite strong campaigning from parents to be able to choose, in August 1999, the government de-licensed the single measles vaccine and banned the widespread importation of the vaccine into the UK. Such a fine example of patient choice and the free market in action. Some parents who could afford it even took their children abroad to be vaccinated using the single jab.

After that, the old vaccine was and may still be, available in this country - but only if parents were able to persuade a doctor to organise importation "for personal use", then administer it, even if newly unlicensed, in the face of massive official disapproval.

In 2001, the heavy guns of the World Health Organization (WHO) waded in, issuing a fatwa statement, "strongly supporting the use of MMR vaccine on the grounds of its convincing record of safety and efficacy."

It may, or may not, be relevant that a significant number of members of the Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, two Department of Health committees responsible for reviewing the safety and efficacy of the MMR vaccine, are reported to have had links with companies that manufacture it including some as actual as share holders.

One could also be forgiven for thinking that if the authorities had ever really been concerned about the possibility of an increase in the number of cases of Measles they would have allowed parental choice between the original viable alternative and the MMR vaccine, rather than trying to bully them with an all, or nothing, choice.

So, that rise the BBC mentioned in the number of measles cases, can be squarely laid at the door of the government and the medical establishment for effectively banning any alternative to MMR.

That is what the BBC failed to mention and by doing so is effectively actually covering up. A work of art using only actual facts, Jo Goebbels would have been proud.

Talk about show trials and rewriting history to suit. It all has a certain worrying familiarity,


Anonymous said...

Do you read the Daily Mail by any chance?

Phil A said...

Re: ”Do you read the Daily Mail by any chance?”

Sorry no. But do feel free to carry on reading it yourself though - I would certainly defend anyone’s right to read it, or any other paper.

VinnyR said...

If you had actually researched the evidence, you would find that the the BBC are right. Andrew Wakefields research was deeply flawed. During the research one of his team (Nick Chadwick) found the flaws and realised there was no measles virus in the gut of the autistic children. When Wakefield hid those results and proceeded with the flawed results, Chadwick removed his name from it.

If you want to read further about the case and then make your own mind up, please feel free:




Phil A said...

VinnyR, Thanks for your comment Unfortunately you have entirely missed the point of my argument. Possibly my fault for not being clear enough.

It has nothing to do with how flawed, or otherwise the research may have been, it was to do with the reporting of the story and to a lesser extent the way such things are handled. The references to the research are there primarily as background.

What I was highlighting was that the BBC implied via their report and the graph, that the rise in the incidents of measles was solely due to Dr Wakefield & Co’s research. Whereas the rise was actually more to do with the ‘battle’ the Authorities had with the Dr.

If the previously existing single dose vaccine had been allowed to remain available as an alternative to MMR whilst they argued the toss, then any parents who had worries about the MMR vaccine could have used the old one, thus maintaining a general immunity in the population and a declining, or flat graph of incidents of measles.

As it was, it appears the old vaccine was actively removed from the equation by the authorities. As a consequence it would then seem that sufficient numbers of parents evidently preferred not to chance the vaccine and went without, thus reducing the general immunity of the population, presumably enough to generate a rising graph.

The rise is thus largely a, presumably unintended, consequence of the authorities policy in reaction to Dr Wakefield’s research and the concern it caused.

Roger Thornhill said...


At the core of this is the issue, which you highlight a manifestation of, is the State monopoly on healthcare, i.e. near total control over our health and, with the new insidious donor move, our death.

Had we had a pluralistic system, even under State oversight, the enforcement of a new treatment in this way would not have happened as it did. But no, the State has to micromanage , even to the point of preventing parallel usage. That speaks volumes.

What did occur was nothing short of highly autocratic - Communism in fact.

Mark Wadsworth said...

I think this is your killer paragraph

"If the previously existing single dose vaccine had been allowed to remain available as an alternative to MMR whilst they argued the toss, then any parents who had worries about the MMR vaccine could have used the old one, thus maintaining a general immunity in the population and a declining, or flat graph of incidents of measles".

True. Fact. Incontrovertible. My kids had the MMR jab back then, but I did have some misgivings.

But your problem is, you have got various self-interested parties, all covering their own arses and changing their story: Dr Wakefield, the GMC, the BBC, the NHS and the government, all of whom may well be lying through their back teeth.

Maybe even one of them is totally honest, but if you had to guess which, then who is most credible in all this?

(originally posted over at Roger's)

Phil A said...

Mark, ”who is most credible in all this?”

A difficult one. It’s a rather a mess. Certainly collectively the authorities behaved in a ridiculous manner and appear to have managed to turn a molehill into a mountain that may have cost a life. They have bullied worried parents apparently deliberately restricted their choices and treated them like idiots.

People might be more inclined to accept official pronouncements if they hadn’t had plenty of examples that suggested the officials were more concerned with politics, no matter what and less with actual truth. Particularly in relation to health I am sure we all remember the unfortunate Cordelia Gummer paraded eating a yummy burger at the height of the BSE scare.

Quite a number of those responsible for assessing the safety of the MMR Vaccine on Department of Health Committees appear to have some connections with the manufacturers. Maybe they should have considered declaring an interest and disqualifying themselves. I am not aware if any did so.

Some of the actual reporting is not all that reliable or accurate. It would not be unreasonable to suppose the BBC may have had an agenda in the latest TV report mentioning the graphs. I believe on balance their reporting was deceptive in that respect. Brian Deer says something similar “In the years after Wakefield's bogus claims, measles outbreaks returned to the UK” factually true, but never-the-less still somewhat misleading for reasons already explained.

A lot of mud has been flung at Dr Wakefield. Is some of it mud that should rightfully stick? Difficult to say. All research that involves scientists dipping into Small samples and Statistics seems to be worth taking with a pinch of salt. They sometimes make elementary mistakes and sometimes appear miss the point of statistical significance in relation to sample size, if it proves their point. There is a strong suggestion that Wakefield was paid to do the research by interested parties. There is much talk of the research being unethical and of vaccine patents.

For the sake of argument, even if Dr Wakefileld was wrong and knew it. The harm he could have done publishing, without the efforts of the authorities and the media would have been tiny.

To me the key factor that exacerbated the situation was the official reaction to Dr Wakefield’s paper, a more intelligent and foresighted response would have reassured the public, contained any flight from immunisation, examined the research and if called for refuted it simply, clearly and believably.

The answer? Frankly they are all standing pretty deep in the crap.

Mark Wadsworth said...

"Frankly they are all standing pretty deep in the crap"

That is probably a fair summary.