November 6, 2003

Vaccine-Autism connection suppressed

When doctors take the Hippocratic oath, they swear to "do no harm." They do not swear to do on average less harm than good; they're not supposed to be game theorists. Yet the medical establishment, cowering like a whipped dog at the feet of malpractice lawyers, has grown increasingly disillusioned with the world. The friendly country doctor who made house calls and took patients on credit no longer exists. He has been replaced with an overworked, underpaid, disingenuous career researcher who lives from grant to grant in constant fear of litigation. The trend among medical institutions has not been towards dissent and competition, as it ought to be in academia; rather, there has been an increasing demand for solidarity.

Dr. Andrew Wakefield and Dr. Andrew Murch worked on a paper in 1998 that linked the triple vaccine MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) to autism. Wakefield was forced out of his hospital, ironically named the Royal Free Hospital, after he published the controversial paper. The issue is not that each vaccine individually is contraindicated, but that the three live viruses, when injected simultaneously, could interact with each other in ways that doctors do not understand. Compounding this, many vaccines still contain mercury in Thimerosal (after plutonium, mercury is the most toxic element on earth). Tellingly, there was an 18 percent increase in the incidence of autism the first year MMR vaccination was required for Scottish elementary-school students.

Murch recently wrote to the medical journal The Lancet, warning of a possible outbreak due to falling vaccination rates. He said that the risk of giving children the MMR injection was "extremely small and the risk attached to not giving MMR is much greater." One hopes Murch is having fun in his game theory classes. Murch writes, "By any rational standards of risk-benefit calculation, it is an illogical and potentially dangerous mistake for parents to be prepared to take their children in a car on the motorway or in an airplane on holiday, but not to protect them with the MMR vaccine." But he has sworn to "do no harm," and an alternative—three single shots—has no risk either way.

Wakefield asserted that Murch crumbled under the pressure from the medical establishment to quell anti-MMR research. He said, "[Murch] may be convinced this is true but the pressure is there. To say there's no pressure is simply not true." Murch, however, promised he "had not been lean[ed] on at all." Wakefield called the situation "a national disgrace" and demanded a public inquiry. He asserts that, "Senior members of the [British] joint committee on vaccination and immunization in their capacities as expert advisers to the vaccine manufacturers have been presented with compelling evidence of a link between MMR and autism in children."

Alarming as it is that medical establishments recommended potentially brain-damaging preventative measures, that is understandable. When they begin quelling academic competition, we should be suspicious. When they begin dissembling, we should be afraid. When they take their collective power and throw it against two helpless researchers, firing one and forcing the other to rescind statements based on solid research, we must protest vehemently.