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 Many of the co-authors have since withdrawn their names from the now retracted study.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.