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MMR controversy financially motivated

James Kellerman

Andrew Wakefield the doctor behind the contoversial study that linked the MMR vaccine with autism was paid by lawyers before his study and failed to disclose this clear conflict of interest.
ANDREW WAKEFIELD, the former surgeon whose campaign linking the MMR vaccine with autism caused a collapse in immunisation rates, was paid more than £400,000 by lawyers trying to prove that the vaccine was unsafe. The payments, unearthed by The Sunday Times, were part of £3.4m distributed from the legal aid fund to doctors and scientists who had been recruited to support a now failed lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. Critics this weekend voiced amazement at the sums, which they said created a clear conflict of interest and were the "financial engine" behind a worldwide alarm over the triple measles, mumps and rubella shot.
The consequences of this paper are shown in the following timeline from the independent.
FEBRUARY 1998: Andrew Wakefield's paper is published in The Lancet, linking the MMR triple vaccine with autism * 2000: Demand for single vaccines rises * JANUARY 2001: The Government rejects calls for a single measles vaccine on the NHS * 2001: MMR vaccinations fall to 84.2 per cent of children, down from 92 per cent in 1996 * EARLY 2003: Immunisation rates reach low of 78.9 per cent * NOVEMBER 2003: Dr Simon Murch says there is "unequivocal evidence that MMR is not a risk factor for autism" * 2004: It emerges that while preparing his Lancet paper, Dr Wakefield was being paid by lawyers for parents of children allegedly damaged by MMR * 2004: Immunisation rates rise to 81 per cent * 2004: Number of cases of mumps: 16,436, up from 4,204 the previous year. In 2005 the number is up to 56,390 * MID-2005: Immunisation rates rise to 85 per cent * OCTOBER 2005: Cochrane Library says there is no credible evidence that MMR harms * APRIL 2006: A boy, 13, who had not received the MMR vaccine, becomes the first person to die of measles in 14 years
This shows what can happen when "big legal" get involved in science and is an interesting counterpoint to the general argument that it is "big pharma" who are the evil ones. I think that wherever the incentive is sufficient there will be people and organisations that will both bend and break the rules. It is critical that science remains independent and unbiased, which is why repeatability and peer review are important elements of science publishing. Unfortunately in the Wakefield case peer review was corrupted with one of the referees being paid £40,000. There is good coverage of this here and here