GMC Verdict Does Not Address Autism-Vaccine Validity

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Dr. Andrew Wakefield has been a lightening rod for attacks by vaccine promoters ever since he published an article (Lancet, 1998) raising the possibility– though not claiming a finding of a causal link–between the onset of children’s chronic intestinal inflammation and pervasive developmental disorder following vaccination with the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

He wrote, “We have identified a chronic enterocolitis in children that may be related to neuropsychiatric dysfunction. In most cases, onset of symptoms was after measles, mumps, and rubella immunisation. Further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome and its possible relation to this vaccine.”

During these twelve years Dr. Wakefield has been pilloried for daring to suggest that the MMR vaccine may not be safe.

During the same period, Dr. Wakefield published 32 peer-reviewed articles about children who suffered from both inflammatory bowel disease and severe developmental disorder. See list of publications:

A complaint filed by a Times of London reporter with the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel (GMC) resulted in a two and a half year investigation, the most expensive ever conducted by the GMC.

On January 28, the GMC issued a damning verdict about the ethical conduct of the three doctors being investigated. Their finding of ethical breaches included: unnecessarily exposing children to invasive procedures:  spinal taps and colonoscopies for research purposes; paying children at his son’s birthday party for blood samples; and undisclosed financial conflicts of interest. However, the GMC panel did NOT pass judgment on the validity of Dr. Wakefield’s research or his findings.

Of note, none of the parents of the 12 children in the study ever complained to the GMC. Indeed, the children’s parents issued a Public Statement in support of Dr. Wakefield, Prof. Murch, and Prof. Walker-Smith: “All of the investigations were carried out without distress to our children, many of whom made great improvements on treatment so that for the first time in
years they were finally pain free.”

Neither the major media, nor science journalists seem to have taken notice of the fact that DHHS epidemiologists found a similar link between the measles vaccine and neurological impairment. A 1998 published report by government scientists (Weibel RE, Caserta V, Benor DE, Evans G.) who reviewed claims submitted to the U.S. National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program found:

“RESULTS: A total of 48 children, ages 10 to 49 months, met the inclusion criteria after receiving measles vaccine, alone or in combination. Eight children died, and the remainder had mental regression and retardation, chronic seizures, motor and sensory deficits, and movement disorders.
The onset of neurologic signs or symptoms occurred with a nonrandom, statistically significant distribution of cases on days 8 and 9.
No cases were identified after the administration of monovalent mumps or rubella vaccine.

CONCLUSIONS: This clustering suggests that a causal relationship between measles vaccine and encephalopathy may exist as a rare complication of measles immunization.”

See: Weibel RE, Caserta V, Benor DE, Evans G. Acute encephalopathy followed by permanent brain injury or death were associated with further attenuated measles vaccines: a review of claims submitted to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Pediatrics, 1998 Mar;101(3 Pt 1):383-7.

Of note, Dr. Wakefield is not against all vaccines: he has recommended monovalent mumps, rubella and measles vaccines, administered on different dates, as a precaution until more is known. He hypothesized that the three live viruses given together in the MMR vaccine could be the source of potential problems in at least SOME children.

Following the judgment of the GMC Panel on Jan 28, 2010, the Lancet retracted Wakefield et al’s original article, stating: “it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al. are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.”

Something doesn’t add up.  Litigation involving pharmaceutical companies has revealed that many research papers, published in top journals,  are characterized by research fraud and misconduct.  These papers have been published by the
Lancet and the other prestigious medical journals.   Many were ghostwritten and crafted to promote marketing goals, but they were deceptively penned by prominent academics and passed off by medical journals–including  The Lancet–as the objective, “peer-reviewed” work of academics.  Few, if any, of these fraudulent articles have been retracted.
A JAMA review recently estimated that 7.6% of the Lancet’s articles have ghost authors
(usually pharmaceutical public relations staff or contractors).

Why, the, are the Lancet editors retracting only Dr. Wakefield’s paper now?
The editors cite two reasons:  the children were not “consecutively referred” and the studies weren’t approved by the local ethics committee.
AHRP is astonished that, given multiple prior investigations of this paper, it took the Lancet editors 12 years to discover a lack of proper IRB approval.

Indeed, the JAMA review , based on an anonymous survey of authors, reported that the 6 major medical journals have published a significant number of ghostwritten articles in 2008:

“The New England Journal of Medicine had an estimated 10.9 percent rate of ghostwriting,  a rate of 7.9 percent in JAMA, 7.6 percent in The Lancet, 7.6 percent in PLoS Medicine, 4.9 percent in The Annals of Internal Medicine, and 2 percent in Nature Medicine. In 1996, a similar study by JAMA editors reported ghost authorship rates of 16.2 percent in The New England Journal of Medicine, 15.3 percent in The Annals of Internal Medicine, and 7.1 percent in JAMA.”

See: Joseph Wislar, Annette Flanagin, Phil B. Fontanarosa, and Catherine D. DeAngelis    See also:   [Unclear whether JAMA ghosts comprise 7.9% or 7.1%?]

An article in the current issue of PLos Medicine by Drs. Jeffrey Lacasse and Jonathan Leo, investigates authorship and ghostwriting policies at 50 top US academic medical centers.  Only 13 of the centers have policies in place prohibiting ghostwriting.  Twenty-six centers had no published policies on authorship.  Two centers reported having such policies, but they were not available to the authors.

According to Leo and Lacasse, “The practice of ghostwriting explicitly violates the usual norms of academia. We are not aware of any other academic fields where it is acceptable for professors to allow themselves to be listed as authors on research papers they did not write, or to purposefully conceal the contributions of industry coauthors in order to mislead readers. A recent New York Times article characterizes medical ghostwriting as “an academic crime akin to plagiarism”.

Why do medical journals fail to retract ghostwritten medical reports that undermine the very integrity of the journals?  Isn’t faked authorship more important to root out than lack of “consecutive referral,” whatever that is supposed to mean?

Below, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny provides a perspective on (what she calls) Wakefield Inquisitioners.

Vera Hassner Sharav