Dr. Andrew Wakefield on the Autism/Vaccine Controversy and His Ongoing Professional Persecution


The Daily Bell is pleased to present an exclusive interview with Dr. Andrew Wakefield.

Introduction: 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.

Daily Bell: Can you fill our readers in on the controversy that has cost you so dearly?

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: How did that happen?

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: Did you believe her?

Dr. Andrew 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 disease.

We treated 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.

Daily Bell: How did you pursue it exactly?

Dr. Andrew 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.

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Daily Bell: And you are still living with the results.

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: 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.

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: Sounds reasonable.

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: 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 in 1988?

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: 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 paper.

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: Did you pursue the logical ramifications of your work at The Thoughtful House in Texas – a clinic from where you have just recently resigned?

Dr. Andrew 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 get.

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.

Safety first. 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.

Daily Bell: Did you see cures? Improvement? Give us details of the treatment.

Dr. Andrew 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.

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Daily Bell: Guess that’s why it was called Thoughtful House. Obviously, this has attracted antipathy in some quarters.

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: Are you angry over your treatment?

Dr. Andrew 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 deal with.

Daily Bell: You have many supporters.

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: Would you pursue your autism/vaccine study if you had it to do over?

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: We’ve already touched on it, but explain please in detail why the initial paper was disavowed by the Lancet?

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: But you didn’t make this claim did you?

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: So you weren’t prepared to retract a possibility?

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: Was that somehow unethical?

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Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: Do you believe in your paper despite the Lancet retraction?

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: Why did your co-writers disavow the study? Or did they?

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: Was it fair of them?

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: Are you surprised by the antipathy and inaccuracy of mainstream media – generally or specifically?

Dr. Andrew 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.

Daily Bell: Do you feel big pharmaceutical companies have targeted you and your research?

Dr. Andrew Wakefield: Do I feel that it is my impression that they have, absolutely.

Daily Bell: Is Big Pharma acting ethically regarding continued pressure for mandatory use of more and more vaccines?

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May 31, 2010