Autism, Vaccines & Fraud

In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield and 12 co-authors, published a falsified “study” which claimed to show a link between autism and the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine. Over a dozen studies since then have shown there is no link with vaccines and autism. Now, there is the issue of medical fraud.

In 2010, the Lancet, the medical journal in which Dr. Wakefield’s study was originally published, officially retracted the study from its journal and archives. In addition, in May 2010, Dr. Wakefield’s medical license was revoked in Britain. Why? Dr. Wakefield is accused of committing fraud. He also failed to disclose that he was paid over $675,000 by a personal injury attorney who was suing the vaccine manufacturers. There were also business plans on the horizons regarding the development of a modified measles vaccine. “He is now facing a General Medical Council fitness to practise panel, accused of serious professional misconduct, alongside two other authors of the study, Simon Murch and John Walker-Smith.” (http://www.bmj.com/content/336/7649/850.1.extract)

Last week, Journalist Brian Deer of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published the second part their investigative findings of fraudulent activity. In it, they state that Dr. Wakefield “misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study - and that there was "no doubt" Wakefield was responsible.”

Dr. Wakefield’s study was weak in that it only included 12 patients. Many of the co-authors have since withdrawn their names from the now retracted study. However, the damage has been done. In the wake of rising autism rates, a possible link between vaccines and autism struck fear into the hearts and minds of many parents. Countless parents have been concerned that the very vaccine that is to save their child’s life, may damage permanently. Hence, began the decline in vaccine rates. Then, the tragedy began and still continues today.

Personally, I have had to counsel many, many patients on the safety of vaccines every single day. I am proud to be able to do so. However, in the end, it is a parent’s personal decision. But that personal decision to refuse vaccination has affected the world. The rates of measles, bacterial meningitis, pertussis (whooping cough) and many other vaccine preventable diseases are on the rise in many countries, including Britain and the United States. The rise in frequency of these diseases has resulted in the unnecessary and preventable deaths and irreversible damage to many children and families around the world.

You may think, ‘My children are vaccinated? How does this affect me?” The most current example is that California has a pertussis epidemic. Infants are not protected until they have received their third primary series of vaccines at 6 months of age. Hence, infants who were vaccinated against pertussis died in California. Why? They weren’t 6 months old, they had not yet received their third pertussis vaccine, and herd immunity decreased with decreased vaccination rates.

Having seen children die from meningitis, I can tell you that words cannot express how it has affected me as a physician. To watch the suffering in parents’ eyes and be able to do nothing … leaves me helpless and forever saddens me. The family is forever altered. The legacy of Dr. Wakefield, the other co-authors, and the Lancet is that they have touched the world in such a tragic negative way. Even though the tide may be changing, the reality is that for many, it is too late.


Coping with the Aftermath of a Tragedy

On Saturday, January 8, 2011, our nation suffered devastation with the shootings that occurred in Tuscon, Arizona.  Jared Loughner killed 6 and injured 14 others at a gathering for constituents of Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  Rep. Giffords was severely wounded by a bullet that passed through her brain.  She is currently in intensive care, has been responsive, but has an unknown future.  Christina Green, a 9 year old girl was among those killed.

Yesterday, there were many moments of silence observed ... at the White House South Lawn, the U.S. Capitol steps, the Supreme Court, and at the BCS national championship to mention a few.

How can we make sense of this?  How can we make sense of this to our children when we don't understand it fully ourselves?  There are several guidelines as to how you can best help your child, regardless of age, cope with the aftermath of a tragedy. 

First, you may want to consider supervising or limiting what your children see on TV regarding this and other traumatic events.  Your actions will depend on the age of your child, the level of understanding, and maturity of your child.
Second, and most important of all, communicate with your child at a level appropriate to his/her age.  If you decide to watch the news coverage with your child, discuss developments with them. Give your child the chance to ask you questions.
Next, be prepared to discuss their emotions.  Ask them what they think and/or feel.  Allow them to express fear, confusion, etc.  Let them know that a variety of thoughts and emotions are normal.  In addition, sometimes, a tragedy can bring up other thoughts and emotions from an unrelated difficult experience.  Be aware that this can occur, so that you can best handle the other issue as it arises.
Remember to be honest.  It is okay to admit to your child that you don't understand how such a tragedy could occur.  It is important to know that you might not have all the answers, but that everyone involved in the tragedy is working at getting the answers (investigators, school officials, family, friends, etc.)  You can tell your child that as more answers are available, you can talk about this again.
Be prepared to revisit the tragedy.  Keeping the lines of communication open is also important.  The reality is your child's awareness may change in the next few days, months, or even years, especially as more information becomes available over time.
Lastly, if possible, end the conversation on a positive note.  There usually are heroes in every tragedy as there are this one.  Point out the 20 year old intern, Daniel Hernandez, who at only five days of being an intern, sprung into action, applied pressure to Rep. Giffords wound, preveting excessive further bleeding.  Point out other four people in the crowd that worked together to stop the gunman from reloading, preventing more death and injuries.  Point out the masses and prayers that are being said for all these people.  Point out the moments of silence throughout the country.  Point out the communities that are uniting to help out the families of those directly injured or otherwise affected by the shootings.  At the risk of sounding corny, that's a lot of love and goodness in people's hearts.  Our children need to know that despite the evil in the world, goodness remains.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a free downloadable guide available online regarding coping with the aftermath.  It is called, "Tips for Talking to Children and Youth After Traumatic Events: A Guide for Parents and Educators."  This is an invaluable resource.  I recommend you print it out and use it; it is helpful for any traumatic event.

New Year's Resolution: Self Kindness

By now, you probably have your New Year's resolutions.  If not, consider this unusual resolution ... Be kind to yourself.  Give yourself some credit. You probably have a lot on your plate. There are plenty of people out there who are more than willing to be harsh to you. You don't have to be one of those people too.
Or have you run into the thought that your resolutions are too difficult, too many, or already broken?   How about trying something different this year?  Pick one goal & keep it simple.  The laundry list of what you would like to change in your life is often unattainable if the list is too long & too hard. 

Or like many of us, is your resolution to lose weight?  Again, be kind to yourself.  How about focusing on the month's weight loss goal instead of the year?  You are more likely to succeed if you try to change one goal by working on it one day at a time.
How about an even "simpler" resolution?  Do you wish you had more time with your family?  Quality time is crucial.  It doesn't have to be an extravagant vacation.  You don't even have to leave the house.  How about a board game or other uninhibited play?  You would be amazed at what 1 to 2 hours of play, every two weeks could do for your family.

If you can, share this process with your child and/or family. Your internal growth is something they can learn from and follow.  Not to mention, they might offer you a great deal of support.

I hope you all enjoyed your New Year's Eve celebration.  As for my family, it was quiet; just us three.  Quiet is a very rare and special treat.  Dick Clark's New Year's Eve is still amazing!  Screaming the countdown - still my favorite part.

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