Who is he: Dr. Andrew Wakefield (born 1957) is a British former surgeon and medical researcher who came to fame because he published a study in the Lancet, with 12 co-authors, suggesting a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Since then, Dr. Wakefield has been pursued by monied interests that wish to discredit him.
In February 2010, findings of a study at Wake Forest University School of Medicine were released that replicated Wakefield's findings. Team leader, Dr. Stephen Walker, stated, "What it means is that the study done earlier by Dr Wakefield and published in 1998 is correct. That study didn’t draw any conclusions about specifically what it means to find measles virus in the gut, but the implication is it may be coming from the MMR vaccine. If that’s the case ... it may be related to the MMR.' Wakefield's findings were also replicated in a 2001 study led by John O'Leary, Professor of Pathology at St James's Hospital and Trinity College, Dublin.
After Wakefield's Lancet paper was released, a Sunday Times reporter launched a seven-year campaign against Dr. Wakefield, reporting on supposed undisclosed financial conflicts and claiming Wakefield had made claims that he had not. This attack, together with concerted effort by others, ultimately caused ten of Wakefield's co-authors to sign a retraction of the interpretation, although they maintained support for the science. However, in spite of the negative publicity the Wakefield Study may be responsible, in part, for a sharp drop in vaccine rates, especially for the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine.
The British General Medical Council (GMC) conducted an inquiry and assessed some 35 charges including dishonesty against Dr. Wakefield, stating he had "failed in his duties as a responsible consultant." The Lancet then retracted Dr. Wakefield's study. Dr. Wakefield was stripped of his license to practice medicine in the UK.
Prior to the publication of the vaccine paper, Dr. Wakefield was a respected professional. After training at St. Mary's Hospital in London, qualifying in 1981 and becoming a Fellow at the Royal College of Surgeons, Dr. Wakefield focused on Crohn's Disease, bowel disease and osteocolitis and published about 130 papers on bowel disease prior to becoming involved in studying autism in 1995.
Dr. Wakefield's interest in the potential MMR/autism link began when a mother had called him and said her child was developing perfectly normally until receiving an MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine. The child became extremely unwell, had high fever for days and was never the same. The child deteriorated into autism, having lost speech, communication, language and interaction abilities. The case intrigued Dr. Wakefield. Eventually Dr. Wakefield discovered a series of children whose mothers told exactly the same story. A team of doctors at the Royal Free Hospital, including some of the most eminent pediatric gastroenterologists in the world such as Professor John Walker-Smith, decided to take a closer look at these children who were clearly suffering. The children underwent a series of tests, colonoscopies and biopsies and in the process it was discovered they all had bowel disease.
When the bowel disease was treated, both their diarrhea and their behavior improved. Eventually it became clear to Dr. Wakefield that vaccines might be playing a part in these injuries and that curing bowel disease might be alleviating some of that damage. As a result, Dr. Wakefield became an advocate for vaccine safety. Since then Dr. Wakefield has been endlessly vilified by the pharmaceutical community that has pursued him. He nonetheless has continued to maintain that combined vaccine cocktails are hurtful.
The combined risk of three viruses in a vaccine, MMR, is not acceptable in Dr. Wakefield's view. This was perhaps the essence of the controversy, which continues to this day. Dr. Wakefield has said, "Never before in the history of human endeavor has so much been said about a paper that has been read or understood by so few. It is quite extraordinary. The fact that we published 19 papers on the subject after that one is irrelevant. It's never mentioned. Critics dwell only upon that one paper. I listened to the parents' story and acted according to my professional and moral obligations to determine what was happening with these children."
Background: Academic gastroenterologist Dr. Andrew Wakefield received his medical degree from St. Mary's Hospital Medical School (part of the University of London) in 1981, and is the third generation of his family to have studied medicine at that teaching hospital. Dr. Wakefield pursued a career in gastrointestinal surgery with a particular interest in inflammatory bowel disease. Dr. Wakefield qualified as Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1985 and in 1996 was awarded a Wellcome Trust Traveling Fellowship to study small-intestinal transplantation in Toronto, Canada.
Dr. Wakefield was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists in 2001. Dr. Wakefield has published over 130 original scientific articles, book chapters, and invited scientific commentaries. In the pursuit of possible links between childhood vaccines, intestinal inflammation, and neurologic injury in children, Dr. Wakefield lost his job in the Department of Medicine at London's Royal Free Hospital, his country of origin, his career, and his medical license.
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