28 Mar – Unless your child was injured, disabled or killed by a vaccine, you probably don’t know who Andrew Wakefield MD is or why Lancet retracted his report. If you friends and family are not touched by children who suffered vaccine injuries, you probably won’t care why the UK’s General Medical Council (GMC) revoked Dr. Wakefield’s clinical privileges or why the story of an honest gastroenterologist from the UK matters.
But it should.
Dr. Wakefield’s experience serves as a cautionary tale for doctors whose research threatens political and financial institutions and the political careers of those who profit from them.
Martin Walker has examined “dirty medicine” for more than three decades. The following is an analysis of the acquittal of Professor John Walker-Smith in the context of the conspiracy against the three doctors, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, Dr. Simon Murch and Professor Walker-Smith, who were tried in a GMC Fitness to Practice Hearing in London between 2007 and 2010. The hearing was the longest in GMC history and one of the longest quasi-judicial hearings ever to take place in Britain.
Off the specifically ‘legal’ track, the beginnings of the Wakefield affair, it’s social, cultural, and indeed medical context, go back to the introduction of the first three brands of Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine (MMR) in 1988.
By 1992 two of these brands, containing the Urabe mumps viral strain had been found to have serious adverse effects on children and were withdrawn, not just in the UK, but in Canada and Japan. The British government was forced following this withdrawal to fall back on one MMR vaccine, manufactured in the US and containing the apparently safer Jeryl Lynn mumps viral strain.
In 1993, Dr Andrew Wakefield who had been head hunted to lead research in the new Royal Free Hospital (RFH) experimental gastrointestinal unit, had begun to be approached by parents whose children had suddenly developed inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Concerned about these cases, Wakefield both wrote to and telephoned Professor David Salisbury, then head of vaccination and immunization at the Department of Health, asking for a meeting to discuss them. It would be six years before Wakefield got this meeting.
The conspiracy against Dr Wakefield ‘the whistle-blower’ took over a decade for the pharmaceutical companies, the government and the General Medical Council to structure. It began quietly with Brian Deer, a consumer affairs journalist for the Sunday Times, writing a long article demeaning expert witnesses who had previously appeared on behalf of claimants whose children had been damaged by whooping cough vaccine.
In 1998, Andrew Wakefield was the lead author in a ‘case review’ paper published in the Lancet. This paper described the presenting symptoms of 12 children who had attended the RFH. The paper had 13 authors, all of whom had played some part in reviewing the children’s cases from a diagnostic perspective. What the doctors wanted to know was what trigger had led to the sudden onset of IBD in the children, without this information it was not possible to treat them. The paper itself included a sentence, necessary for record purposes, which said that a number of parents had suggested their children’s illness had occurred after their MMR vaccination; other than this the paper said nothing about MMR, nor did it speculate about the cause of regressive autism present in some of the children. This paper was written to aid ongoing clinical work and was not ‘research’ as it is broadly defined.
As Wakefield entered his conflict with David Salisbury, a civil claims lawyer, Richard Barr was separately assembling what would become over 1,000 parents to pursue a legal case on behalf of their children against three vaccine manufacturers responsible for adverse reactions the claimants said had been caused by MMR. Barr asked Wakefield to be an expert witness for the cohort of claimants whose children suffered from IBD.
Although the GMC was later to make out that the Lancet ‘case review paper’ was actually a part of Wakefield’s research in support of his role as an expert witness, the results intended to damage the three defendant pharmaceutical companies, the parent claimants were actually divided into groups claiming for a variety of adverse reactions, the majority of which had nothing to do with IBD or autism spectrum disorders.
On the publication of the Lancet case review paper, a press briefing was organised by the University linked to the Royal Free Hospital (RFH) and the head of the University Department, Professor Arie Zuckerman encouraged Wakefield to tell the press that the triple MMR vaccine could be unsafe while single vaccines had proved over time to have relatively few side effects.
As the conflict developed between Wakefield, the pharmaceutical cartels, the government and medical scientists, the idea that it had always been recognised that there were serious dangers in combined vaccines, faded. Although Wakefield was accused of being responsible for a rise in measles cases, on the evidence, he could only realistically be accused of raising issues about combined vaccines which had already failed massively with the Urabe containing combinations. Wakefield was quick to promote the single measles vaccines, even though in the long run he had concerns about it.
What few parents knew at the time, however, was that the governments of Britain and the US were committed to a programme of developing combined vaccines which they claimed could challenge hundreds of human illnesses in one shot. Despite frequent warnings over the previous thirty years about the adverse effects of mixing vaccine strains, the UK government had invested millions in this programme of combined vaccines in partnership with the pharmaceutical companies.
In the last months of 2003, almost ten years into the legal claims by parents, legal aid — a necessary funding for civil action claimants whose lawyers in Britain lack the confidence or independence to represent in no win no fee cases — was withdrawn by the government department that paid it.
In February 2004, the Appeal against this decision was turned down by a judge whose brother was on the Board of GlaxoSmithKline.
Immediately following the failed Appeal, and now being able to avoid sub judice Brian Deer, working free lance, was briefed by a Sunday Times staffer, coincidentally the son of a doctor who had been intimately involved in the licensing of MMR, to write a long and apparently detailed attack on Dr. Wakefield which covered pages of the broadsheet. While the pharmaceutical companies had managed to get the parents claim withdrawn, they still had to get rid of Wakefield whose personal theories were given more credence not less by the unsupportable withdrawal of Legal Aid.
Just prior to this publication, Deer had used the offices of the Lancet and involved Richard Horton, its editor16,17 and Evan Harris, a Liberal member of parliament whose father had also been involved in the licensing of vaccines, to harangue and brow-beat, Wakefield, Murch and Walker-Smith into answering questions and writing ‘confessions’ which having been twisted by Deer were later used by the GMC as part of their prosecution. Deer told the doctors that his article was ready and unless they gave him a complete account of their involvement, i.e. ‘made statements’ he could not ensure that their side of the story would be told. Needless to say Deer never reported ‘their side of the story’.
The major content of the Sunday Times article was biased, incorrect, mistaken and in some places simple fantasy. Harbinger to a whole series of unverified ‘stories’ about Dr Wakefield, this morally moribund attack was carried out with the help of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Companies’ (ABPI) own private investigators firm, Medico Legal Investigations, a firm at that time run by one ex-military police officer and an ex-Scotland Yard officer, and the staff of James Murdoch’s Sunday Times.
Following Deer’s ‘expose’ his completely unverified non-peer reviewed research material was handed to the General Medical Council headed at the time by Finlay Scott, and with the help of Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, the GMC began drawing up charge sheets against the three doctors.
The three doctors had played varying roles in the diagnostic ‘research’ carried out to find the cause of the sudden onset of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in children brought originally to Dr Wakefield at the Royal Free Hospital. All three doctors had extensive experience of IBD, Wakefield as an award winning researcher into Crohn’s disease, Walker-Smith as a world renowned clinical expert in childhood gastrointestinal illness and doctor Simon Murch as an expert colonoscopist. All the parents involved thought of these three doctors as principled, empathetic and caring. The least commented on of the three was Dr Wakefield, because he was not involved in clinical work, just in accepting cases and passing them on to Walker-Smith for clinical evaluation.
The charges and sub charges, although in the region of 80 in the case of Dr. Wakefield, grew almost solely out of the 1998 case review paper which cited 12 children who presented at the RFH roughly between 1993 and 1997 — the charges rarely went beyond Deer’s corrupt and fantastic information.
From 2004 to 2007, the GMC built and laid out the charges, although unlike all other legal processes, none of the doctors appeared before lawyers to be deposed or answer questions; a primary safeguard in some legal systems.
When the Fitness to Practice Hearing (referred to in this essay as a trial) began in 2007, it was calendared by the prosecution to last no more than three months. However, in a deliberate attempt to obscure the evidence, confuse the public and the Panel (the jury), the GMC dragged out the trial for three years before bringing in decisions which found each of the three defendants guilty on the great majority of charges against them. Throughout that three years no members of the media took a real interest in the hearing, only Brian Deer attended on most days, other disinterested parties only arrived when they were forewarned by the GMC.
At the end of the trial, it was decided that Dr. Simon Murch, not having been found guilty of dishonesty, should simply be admonished, while Professor Walker-Smith and Dr. Andrew Wakefield who were found guilty of dishonesty should be ‘struck of the medical register’ or in contemporary parlance have their names ‘erased’ from this register.
Professor Walker-Smith was granted an appeal, while Dr. Andrew Wakefield was denied one on the grounds that advising counsel did not have confidence in the requisite 52% chance of him succeeding, this meant that his medical insurance company would not fund an appeal.
The message and the meaning of the charges against the three doctors remained hidden even at the close of the hearing. The true meaning of the charges only began to become clear, like maggots striking out for the darkness, intermittently during the hearing and later when Deer wrote a number of non-peer-reviewed articles in the BMJ in 2011. The central camouflaged message running through the heart of the conspiracy was that there were no adverse reactions to childhood vaccination in the UK, most specifically MMR did not create Inflammatory Bowel Disease or regressive autism in any child, or any other illness, ever, anywhere in the world. Dr Andrew Wakefield had become the subject of a classic government conspiracy, to validate a billion pound government and pharmaceutical company confidence trick pushing scantily tested, dangerous and partially unnecessary vaccines on the public. A confidence trick worthy of the German Reich in the case of Van der Lubbe’s role in the Reichstag fire. (continued, with references)
See also The Lewis Report.