Sunday, February 7, 2010

Antivaccination backlash: The sad legacy of Wakefield's False Science

The LA Times is covering this month's news of the Lancet's retraction of Andrew Wakefield's infamous paper linking autism and MMR shots. We applaud the journal in doing the right thing. It's a sad day to think that kids in all sorts of countries have been subject to suffering because of an irresponsible "scientist" set on pushing an agenda.

The LA Times
In 1998, Wakefield wrote and then vociferously hawked an article in the British medical journal Lancet linking autism to the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella). After the council's decision, Lancet this week retracted the article. Among the facts that have come out of the inquiry into Wakefield's research is that two years before his paper appeared, lawyers seeking to sue vaccine makers paid Wakefield the equivalent of $700,000.

After Wakefield's article appeared, vaccination levels plummeted in Britain and declined in the United States, and the diseases they prevented surged. Measles cases increased sevenfold in the U.S.

"One person's research set us back a decade, and we're just now recovering from that," Mark Sawyer, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Radey Children's Hospital in San Diego, told me in an interview.

The article also covers Hollywood crackpots who take advantage of their status and well positioned voices to spread falsehoods:
Romaguera is especially upset by "celebrity science," as exemplified by Jenny McCarthy. The actress and former Playboy playmate claims vaccines made her son autistic but that she "cured" him. There is no cure. McCarthy's antics include yelling at three physicians on "Larry King Live," and exclaiming: "My son died in front of me from a vaccine injury!" Her son is alive, as she later acknowledged.

Yet she'd be little more than an opinionated pinup girl but for being invited to share her "expertise" on "Larry King," ABC's "20/20," "Good Morning America" and other popular shows. All this has helped propel McCarthy's two books on autism to bestsellerdom.

"Celebrities are entitled to support a cause," said Sawyer. "But when they give professional advice, I think that's dangerous."