What do we have to do to prove that a vaccine is safe?
photo from Brian Deer’s website: briandeer.com
This week was the fall kick-off of Emory’s Vaccine Dinner Club (VDC). The topic of discussion was scientific misconduct. Back in 1998 Andrew Wakefield published a paper in the Lancet, in which he reported autism in 9 out of 12 children referred to a clinic in London after receiving the MMR vaccine.
- Wakefield was secretly paid by a lawyer, hoping to file a class action law suit against the drug companies that manufactured the MMR shot, to create evidence that the MMR shot was unsafe.
- Wakefield was planning several business ventures meant to profit from the resulting MMR scare, including a “safer” single measles vaccine.
- The children in Wakefield’s study were pre-selected by anti-vaccine campaign groups, most of the children’s parents were clients/contacts of the lawyer that was secretly paying Wakefield to prove the vaccine unsafe, and none of the children lived in London.
- Wakefield misreported medical information about the children in his study.
Scandal! How come I never heard about this in the news? Individuals at the BMJ were equally confused and bothered by this. The VDC speaker was Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal (BMJ). She said there was some debate over at the BMJ as to whether results of investigative journalism belonged in the BMJ. However, in the end, Brian Deer’s work was subjected to peer review, and published in the BMJ as a series of three articles in the January 8, 2011 issue.
The MMR crises resulted in a drop in MMR vaccinations in the UK, and some children died of measles. Because the Wakefield study resulted in a disastrous lack of public confidence in vaccines, the questions were raised:
- What do we have to do to prove that a vaccine is safe?
- How many patients are needed to prove that a vaccine is safe? 100? 1000? 1,000,000?
- Should vaccines be made mandatory for children in the UK as they are mandatory in the US?
Deer, B. (2011). How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed BMJ, 342 (jan05 1) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.c5347
Deer, B. (2011). How the vaccine crisis was meant to make money BMJ, 342 (jan11 4) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.c5258
Deer, B. (2011). The Lancet’s two days to bury bad news BMJ, 342 (jan18 2) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.c7001