Vaccines, Autism and Andrew Wakefield’s Victims

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I thought we had seen Wakefield’s last stand.  But this week the British Medical Journal released a report detailing the calculated fraud that went into Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 Lancet publication linking the MMR vaccine with autism.  What’s newsworthy is the extent to which the data reported by Wakefield was fabricated.  For a thorough delineation of his shenanigans, read Orac’s coverage.

Much like the attention we offer a serial killer at the expense of his victims, Wakefield’s public evisceration comes at the expense of those he has damaged.  We shouldn’t overlook his impact on 3 populations:

Children.  Wakefield’s most obvious victim is our children.  While the pediatric community has worked desperately over the past two generations to make deadly childhood disease part of history, Wakefield and his disciples have done their part to see to it that diseases like whooping cough remain front and center.  To appreciate Wakefield’s most critical impact on children, grab a copy of The Forgotten Story.  It’s a compilation of first-hand stories told by the families of those touched by vaccine-preventable illness.  The expression on the faces of the young parents holding pictures of their children is chilling.

Parents.  Any parent who has ever had a fleeting second thought about protecting their child from measles, mumps or rubella is a victim of Andrew Wakefield’s crafted manipulation.  Parental fear is the fuel of a conspiratorial cottage industry that is slowly losing its base.

Pediatricians.  Ultimately it’s the pediatricians who are left to clean up the mess and advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.  The cumulative hours spent by pediatric providers helping young families manage their fear represents an extraordinary expenditure.  The fraudulent connection between vaccines and autism will continue to occupy the precious minutes of well-child exams for years to come.

While I have been known to prematurely predict Wakefield’s final stand, his impact remains and he continues to claim victims.  I can comfortably predict that Wakefield will go down in history as one of modern medicine’s most important figures.  Not for what he advanced but for taking the most first steps toward reversing the eradication of deadly childhood disease.