Daily Bell is pleased to present an exclusive interview with
Dr. Andrew Wakefield.
Dr. Andrew Wakefield, MB, BS, FRCS, FRCPath, is an academic gastroenterologist.
He received his medical degree from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical
School (part of the University of London) in 1981, one of the third
generation of his family to have studied medicine at that teaching
hospital. He pursued a career in gastrointestinal surgery with a
particular interest in inflammatory bowel disease. He qualified
as Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1985 and in 1996 was
awarded a Wellcome Trust Traveling Fellowship to study small-intestinal
transplantation in Toronto, Canada. He was made a Fellow of the
Royal College of Pathologists in 2001. He has published over 130
original scientific articles, book chapters, and invited scientific
commentaries. In the pursuit of possible links between childhood
vaccines, intestinal inflammation, and neurologic injury in children,
Dr. Wakefield lost his job in the Department of Medicine at London’s
Royal Free Hospital, his country, his career, and his medical license.
Can you fill our readers in on the controversy that has cost you
Wakefield: Certainly. Let me give you a bit of background as
to who I am. I am a gastroenterologist and an entirely conventional
physician. I trained at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, qualifying
in 1981 and then went on to study surgery and became a fellow at
the Royal College of Surgeons. I had a particular interest in Crones
Disease, Bowel disease, Osteo Colitis and pursued an academic career.
I published about 130 papers in bowel disease prior to becoming
involved in Autism in 1995.
How did that happen?
Wakefield: A mother called me and said a child is developing
perfectly normally and then had their MR vaccine. The child became
extremely unwell, high fever for days and upon recovery was never
the same. The child deteriorated into Autism – lost speech,
communication, language, inter-action. I said, I’m terribly sorry,
I’m a gastroenterologist, you must have rung the wrong number. I
knew nothing about Autism; when I was in medical school, it was
so rare – we were not even taught about it. And she said, No,
you don’t understand my child has terrible bowel problems; he’s
having diarrhea 12 times a day he’s lost continence; I know he’s
in pain but he can’t tell me he’s in pain. He’s hitting himself,
banging his head, biting himself and attacking people and I know
this is because he is in pain.
Did you believe her?
Wakefield: The first and most fundamental rule of clinical medicine,
the kind of medicine I was trained to practice and my parents and
grandparents were trained to practice, is to listen to the patient
or the patient’s parents and they will tell you the problem. Now
here is a mother who is not anti-vaccine, who took her child to
be vaccinated, did all the right things and lo-and-behold this is
what happened to her child. We eventually had a series of children
whose mothers told exactly the same story. We decided, a team of
us, at the Royal Free Hospital – including some of the most
eminent pediatric gastroenterologists in the world such as Professor
John Walker-Smith – to take a closer look at these children
because they were clearly suffering. The children underwent a series
of tests, colonoscopy and biopsy and we discovered they had bowel
the bowel disease, the inflammation, just as you might treat Crones
disease or Colitis with anti-inflammatory and diet and the children
got better, not only from the bowel disease perspective; their diarrhea
improved and also their behavior improved. That was very, very interesting.
So we decided to pursue this.
How did you pursue it exactly?
Wakefield: By the time I left the Royal Free in 2001, nearly
200 hundred children with this condition had been seen and diagnosed.
The problem came of course, when the parent said, my child regressed
after the vaccine. If the child had regressed after, let’s say natural
chicken pox, we would not be having this conversation right now.
There would have been no controversy, it would have been, "that’s
extremely interesting, let’s have a look at it." There would
have been no problem, but because it happened after a vaccine, all
hell broke loose.
And you are still living with the results.
Wakefield: My job is not to pander to the whims of the pharmaceutical
industry or to government policy. My job is to answer the question
that the parent presents to me when they call me or confront me
at a meeting. That is my job and my duty as a doctor. So one came
to a crossroads … well, if the parents are right about the bowel
disease, are they right about the vaccine? We decided to look into
that in more detail. And that’s where the controversy began. I am
not in any way anti-vaccine, by the way, and my own children were
vaccinated. But I had to understand the background. I put together
a 250-page report on these safety studies and they were appalling,
they were totally unsatisfactory.
You’re saying those who make and regulate vaccines – both –
were not properly vetting the effects of vaccines? That’s a strong
statement to make.
Wakefield: They did not look at the outcomes of the vaccine
beyond the short-term. To put this in context, we are dealing with
viruses that can cause disease many years later. Thus, you do not
confine your safety studies to 3–6 weeks. As a result of this
understanding, it became my clear conviction that parents deserved
access to the option to access single vaccines – the way it
was done before, which was perfectly effective.
Wakefield: In fact, Measles, Mumps and Rubella had separate
vaccines. The combined risk of three viruses in a vaccine, MMR,
is a way in which nature has never seen them before. Never. And
to subject those to inadequate safety studies is in my opinion,
not acceptable. That was the essence of the controversy and what
has happened ever since has been in essence what medicine and science
have done perhaps for all time – crush dissent by discrediting
the messenger … me.
It is simply
an effort to silence me because of the egregious errors that have
been made in vaccination safety studies. But this has happened since
time immemorial. One of the classic cases has to do with the drug
Thalidomide. The doctor who first described abnormalities following
mothers taking Thalidomide during pregnancy was strongly attacked.
Let’s back up to be clear. Exactly what did you suggest parents
do as a result of your famous study published in the Lancet Journal
Wakefield: The Autism study was a simple case series of 12 children
and all it did was to tell the parents story of what they told us.
It was to document the pinnacle findings in the children. Further
research was needed into causes of autism.
As we understand it, the paper suggested further research specifically
regarding linkage between the MMR vaccine and autism, and thus you
have been held responsible for the plunge in children getting vaccinated
with MMR. However, it also seems to us that in thousands of articles
written about all this recently that you’ve been constantly accused
of making a direct link between vaccines and autism in that now-retracted
Wakefield: Never before in the history of human endeavor has
so much been said about a paper that has been read or understood
by so few. It is quite extraordinary. The fact that we published
19 papers on the subject after that one is irrelevant. It’s never
mentioned. Critics dwell only upon that one paper. I listened to
the parents’ story and acted according to my professional and moral
obligations to determine what was happening with these children.
Did you pursue the logical ramifications of your work at The Thoughtful
House in Texas – a clinic from where you have just recently
Wakefield: Did I continue the work that I started in England?
Yes. Certainly. We continued to investigate the bowel disease; we
looked for evidence of the measles virus from the vaccine being
involved. Most importantly, what we did was a seven-year study looking
at monkeys, infant primates, exposed to the vaccine schedule. It
was something that had never been done before, but it should have
been done and that is to ask what happens in the real world. Not
test vaccines in isolation but test the schedule that children actually
This is a study
that we did in primates because vaccines are tested on primates
in pre-clinical studies. What we found, even with just the Hepatitis
B vaccine containing mercury preservatives, even on the first day
of life, even just after that vaccine, there was evidence of neurological
damage. What was alarming to me, again, is that there had never
been any safety studies that I could find of giving the Hepatitis
B vaccine on day-one of life. That again is not acceptable.
This must be the priority, particularly when you are dealing with
the health of children who are well, who don’t have a disease, perfectly
healthy and you are extending this policy to every child in the
world. All these issues are now covered in my new book, Callous
Disregard, just published.
Did you see cures? Improvement? Give us details of the treatment.
Wakefield: Did we do trials for medical improvement? Yes, we
endeavored to do several trials. What we see at an anecdotal level
in individual patients, is a substantial improvement in symptoms
following treatment of the bowel disease. And the treatment of the
bowel disease is through the use of anti-inflammatory medications
and diet. We found benefits from using exclusion diets for children
who were sensitive to various foods such as wheat and gluten. We
went on to do a clinical trial of hydro-therapy, which some people
had suggested could benefit children with Autism. We did not find
any benefit in our trial, publishing those results accordingly.
So part of my role at Thoughtful House was to put the anecdotal
observations into a scientific context to determine whether there
were benefits or not.
Guess that’s why it was called Thoughtful House. Obviously, this
has attracted antipathy in some quarters.
Wakefield: Well, I think when you are in a field where there
is so much vested interest in current beliefs, and where you are
challenging public health policy and pharmaceutical industry profits,
then you are inevitably going to invite huge controversy.
That is a matter
of fact and it happened with Vioxx; it happened with Thalidomide
and will happen every time a popular and profitable drug or treatment
is challenged. It happened with smoking. You will remember we went
through a period for at least 15–20 years where papers were
published in medical literature saying how good smoking was for
you. Well we now know that not to be true. But it was a challenge
then to industrial interests and just as it is now to pharmaceutical
interests. That is undoubtedly going to bring on controversy.
Are you angry over your treatment?
Wakefield: When I went into it, I knew to some extent what it
was going to involve. I am a student of medical history and I realized
that there was going to be fallout from this. So, anger on my part,
what has happened to me … not really, no. Frustration and sadness
because I went into medicine believing it to be one thing –
a discipline that puts the patients well-being, the patient’s welfare,
above all other considerations. No compromise. So to find that many
colleagues have departed from that ideology is sad to me, but nonetheless
we have to deal with the real world.
What I think
frustrates me and perhaps even angers me more is the way in which
the children have been discarded. The children with this condition
represent an uncomfortable truth and there has been an effort to
erase them from the realm. Commit, if you like, editorial genocide
to get rid of these children because they put at risk government
policy, World Health organization policy and also drug company profits,
but to me that is not acceptable. I find this very difficult to
You have many supporters.
Wakefield: Without them I don’t think it would be possible to
continue. They are absolutely extraordinary. I mean, there’s never
been a complaint against me from a parent or an infected child.
There’s only been support. I have only ever acted in their best
interests and the parents instinctively know that. Mothers know
their children, they know when they are well, they know when they
are ill and they know when people are acting in their best interest.
So, parental support has been absolutely marvelous. There are now
more and more scientists and doctors who have realized what is going
on and realized that the emperor has no clothes and that they must
act in a way that their duty demands.
There are a
very large number of people who are joining in with this now. I
have just come back from China where they estimate there are some
4–5 million children with autism. One home has 3,000 children
in it and has no idea how to treat them. I met with doctors and
scientists in Hong Kong who were of a similar opinion that there
is a major problem with the vaccination program in the context of
childhood mental disorder. So that kind of support makes it possible
to continue and do this kind of work.
Would you pursue your autism/vaccine study if you had it to do over?
Wakefield: Yes, I think I would. I have no regrets about anything
that has happened other than what has happened to the children or
what hasn’t happened for them as a consequence of the controversy.
I would like to think that I would follow exactly the same course
even knowing what the consequences were, if presented with the same
challenges again. It’s very difficult to look back and predict what
one might have done then but I would like to think that I would
have had the courage knowing what I know now.
We’ve already touched on it, but explain please in detail why the
initial paper was disavowed by the Lancet?
Wakefield: In the first instance, the Editor of the Lancet asked
us to retract an interpretation of the paper. And that interpretation
was that MMR vaccine was the cause of autism.
But you didn’t make this claim did you?
Wakefield: No, the paper did not make that claim. It did not
provide the interpretation that MMR vaccine is the cause of autism.
However, it did raise the possibility that vaccines may be associated
with autism. But you cannot retract a possibility. A possibility
exists. It remains a possibility and therefore to retract it is
illogical and was done purely as a political expedient.
So you weren’t prepared to retract a possibility?
Wakefield: My two colleagues and I were not prepared to get
involved in that kind of illogical, political process. The other
reason that we were asked to withdraw the paper or retract that
part of the paper is because I had not told the editor of the Lancet
that I was funded to do a study, a quite separate study, to investigate
whether vaccines could cause this bowel disease at all.
Was that somehow unethical?
Wakefield: This is very important, and it may be a little complex,
but in 1997 when the paper was submitted, the rules of that disclosure
said that the author (that is me) had to decide whether something
constituted a conflict or not. It was in the active voice. It was
up to me to decide and I thought very hard about it. Those were
the rules then. The rules now are very different. The rules now
require that you put yourself in the third person and ask what might
be perceived to be a conflict of interest. That is very much more
onerous. But those were not the rules at the time. This is covered
in my book.
Do you believe in your paper despite the Lancet retraction?
Wakefield: Do I believe in what was in the paper? Absolutely.
The bowel disease has now been confirmed in five separate countries.
Papers have been published from Italy, Venezuela, the United States,
from Canada and the UK confirming the presence of bowel disease.
So that discovery stands absolutely. A vaccine issue – well,
we will see. As yet we don’t know but we are continuing to investigate.
Why did your co-writers disavow the study? Or did they?
Wakefield: This is a very good question and probably one for
them – but they wanted to make it clear, I think, that they
didn’t believe MMR caused autism. But in fact, that really is not
what happened. Because as I say, the paper did not make that claim
and we cannot retract a possibility so why they retracted is really
a question for them.
Was it fair of them?
Wakefield: I think they were frightened, I think they were very,
very frightened at the time. And there were misunderstandings. Pressure
was brought on them and me. I resisted.
Are you surprised by the antipathy and inaccuracy of mainstream
media – generally or specifically?
Wakefield: Yes I am. I am most disappointed by it. I think a
lot of the problem has been the original Sunday Times article
on this whole affair was grossly, factually inaccurate but that
was the lead story that people have followed. Certain things became
imbedded as part of the truth and people came to believe them simply
because they were repeated time and time again. So, the media, I
don’t think, for the most part has taken the trouble to examine
the background of this and part of the reason for writing the book
I’ve just written [Ed. Note: see information below] is to provide
the media with some insight into what actually happened and the
accuracies of the original report.
Do you feel big pharmaceutical companies have targeted you and your
Wakefield: Do I feel that it is my impression that they have,
Is Big Pharma acting ethically regarding continued pressure for
mandatory use of more and more vaccines?