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Daily View: MMR vaccine

Clare Spencer | 09:32 UK time, Friday, 29 January 2010

Andrew WakefieldDr Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who first suggested a link between MMR vaccinations and autism, acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly", the official medical regulator has found. Commentators consider what can be learned.

The Times editorial looks at the significance of the case:

"The damage that he has inflicted on Britain's public health is still being felt. For a profession whose first principle is 'do no harm', it is a chilling legacy."

The director of Straight Statistics Nigel Hawkes says in the Times the media was also at fault:

"This was a case of a well-meaning but deluded doctor whose claims merited a beady-eyed scepticism. Instead there was an uncritical gush from commentators whose only qualification appeared to be that they themselves had children. Having an autistic child was a bonus."

Dr Ben Goldacre was critical of coverage of Dr Wakefield's report early on. He now says in his blog he thinks a similar situation could happen again:

"The MMR scare has now petered out. It would be nice if we could say this was because the media had learnt their lessons, and recognised the importance of scientific evidence, rather than one bloke's hunch. Instead it has terminated because of the behaviour of one man, Andrew Wakefield, which undermined the emotional narrative of their story. The media have developed no insight into their own role, and for this reason, there will be another MMR."

The Telegraph editorial strikes a note of caution:

"There must be a place for scepticism in science, or any other field: it is important for the prevailing orthodoxy to be challenged, because it is not always right. But it is not always wrong, either - and there is a developing hostility towards science, fuelled by half-truths and false arguments easily disseminated on the internet, which feed a suspicion that the truth is somehow always being deliberately hidden."

The Daily Mail editorial goes further by warning against a "witch-hunt":

"It would be a tragedy if the result of that was to deter future scientists from the kind of bold thinking that might one day find a cure for autism."

The Independent editorial argues that Dr Wakefield should not take all the blame for the scare and that the government need to take some responsibility:

"Ministers were slow to react to public concerns and their refusal to countenance the idea of allowing parents to choose to have the three jabs administered to their children separately, though medically correct, probably stoked the panic. To some extent they also paid a price for previous misleading governmental assurances in the early 1990s over the health threat posed by BSE."

Links in full

IndependentIndependent | The true causes of a public health firestorm
MailDaily Mail | MMR and the lessons doctors must learn
TimesNigel Hawkes | Times | The MMR battle is, sadly, not over
TimesTimes | Doctor in disgrace
TelegraphTelegraph | MMR: a sorry episode
IndependentJeremy Laurance | Independent | The three sentences that unleashed MMR scare
IndependentJeremy Laurance | Independent | I was there when Wakefield dropped his bombshell
Bad ScienceBen Goldacre | Bad Science | The Wakefield MMR verdict
ForbesSteven Salzberg | Forbes | UK Panel finds MMR Vaccine study leader acted 'dishonestly and irresponsibly'

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