When a Hoax has Real Roots

When a Hoax has Real Roots

Dr. Andrew Wakefield is a British doctor who had to flee England to avoid charges relating to his authorship to one of the cruelest, and most effective hoaxes in recent history.

For a number of years, Advanced Pediatrics has been presenting facts that demonstrate that Dr. Wakefield's hoax was indeed not true.  Recently, the Sunday Times of London concluded an investigation, being published in the British Medical Journal, that provides definitive proof that Dr. Wakefield's initial paper was, in their words, "an elaborate fraud."

What was Dr. Wakfield's big lie, who did he fool, and what harm did he cause?

The Lie
Dr. Wakefield's lie was that he had proof that the MMR vaccine caused autism.  How was it a lie?  He published a paper that presented 12 cases of children becoming autistic after getting the MMR.  It turns out that nearly half of these children had abnormal development evident before they ever got the MMR, and the allegation that any of the children developed autism in relation to the shot was, simply put, fabricated.
Dr. Wakefield's paper had 13 authors, 10 have retracted their claims, and several have faced charges in British courts.  When charges were brought, Dr. Wakefield fled to the US.

Who Was Fooled
Millions of people.  Sadly, a handful of celebrities joined the bandwagon and whipped up a frenzy that covered the hoax in a persuasive cloak of credibility.  Leading this phenomenon was the actor Jenny McCarthy, but Ms. McCarthy was hardly alone.  Even today, despite the ignominous exposure of Dr. Wakefield's hoax, millions of Americans still believe his discredited claims.

Who Was Harmed
Infants and young children.  Enough families were taken in by the hoax, deciding not to immunize their children, that a pool of susceptibility grew to allow epidemics of measles.  In California in 2010, at least 5 infants died from measles infections that would have never occurred without Dr. Wakefield's actions.

Lessons Learned
  1. The first lesson to be learned is that hoaxes still happen.
  2. Just as importantly, the claim that immunizations cause autism turns out to truly be a hoax.
  3. One lesson I do not take from Dr. Wakefield's dishonesty is to drop a deep skepticism of pharmaceutical industry marketing.
The Real Roots of the Hoax

Around the same time that Dr. Wakefield was being exposed, an important article in Vanity Fair (January, 2011), documented that roughly 200,000 people actually die from the use of prescription medications, used as prescribed, each year in the United States.  The article details a growing trend towards testing new drugs overseas, outside of the regulatory glare of American rules for testing drug safety and efficacy.  One drug profiled, Avandia, became the world's number one oral drug for diabetes, and caused over 80,000 unnecessary heart attacks before being taken off the market.  These are powerful and deeply disturbing numbers and trends.

The point is that the public has a very keen and accurate sense that something has gone terribly wrong with the way drugs are developed and promoted.  A sense of trust has been broken, and I support that perception.  The US pharmaceutical industry has retained tremendous integrity in their manufacturing, a bottle of penicillin can still be absolutely trusted to contain penicillin.  But when it comes to marketing, the integrity has been shattered.

In an era in which trust in the safety and promised efficacy of medications has been put into question, Dr. Wakefield's allegation that immunizations turn out to cause autism fell on very fertile ground.

Bottom Line
  • The distrust of claims of safety and efficacy for drugs is profound and based on real experience.
  • Immunizations do not cause autism, Dr. Wakefield's bold assertion that they do has been fully discredited.
  • Advanced Pediatrics will continue to work hard to maintain an objective view of the drug industry, with these key policies maintained:
    • Drug companies will continue to be barred from offering any items to the office, and also will continue to not be allowed to physically enter the premises.
    • Medical literature reviews will continue to be used to determine if a new drug actually works and what its actual side effects are.
    • Advice to families will continue to be based on the most objective information Advanced Pediatrics can bring to our discussions.
Dr. Arthur Lavin

*Disclaimer* The comments contained in this electronic source of information do not constitute and are not designed to imply that they constitute any form of individual medical advice. The information provided is purely for informational purposes only and not relevant to any person's particular medical condition or situation. If you have any medical concerns about yourself or your family please contact your physician immediately. In order to provide our patients the best uninfluenced information that science has to offer,we do not accept samples of drugs, advertising tchotchkes, money, food, or any item from outside vendors.

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