Less than two months after Andrew Wakefield had his medical license revoked by the UK General Medical Council (GMC), the British gastroenterologist was back on the stump for his discounted theory that vaccines trigger autism.
And this time, he had an autobiographical book in tow.
Last night, dressed in light blue jeans, a starched white shirt rolled up to his elbows and a baby blue tie, Wakefield told a roomful of adoring parents at the New York Metro Chapter of the National Autism Association how he considered the forced retraction of his now-infamous (and retracted) 1998 Lancet paper “editorial genocide” because it was “an effort to erase these children’s histories from the public record,” referring to the 12 autistic children he described with bowel syndromes whose condition he attempted to link to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. (A hospital report questioned the diagnosis of bowel disorders, though parents have come to Wakefield’s defense.)
Wakefield explained how he wrote the book chronicling his experiences in the UK during the proceedings of the 197-day inquiry into his conduct. In tongue-in-cheek deference to his detractors, he called the book ‘Callous Disregard’ — a reference to the GMC’s ruling on Wakefield’s attitude toward the suffering of children involved in his controversial research. (Although not yet available in the UK, the book can be found on Amazon.com, complete with a foreword by former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy. Wakefield also alluded to a planned sequel based on his time in the US.)
Wakefield summed up his attitude not as ‘anti-vaccine’ but as an advocate of a ‘safety first’ vaccine policy, likening his approach to that of Toyota’s recent recall of cars with faulty accelerator pedals, which he noted was not ‘anti-automobile’. His comments come at a time when public health officials are warning that falling vaccination rates might be contributing to a quadrupling of whooping cough rates in California in comparison with last year.
Besides giving a passionate defense of his scientific and medical work, Wakefield also offered a brief update on what he’s been up to since his fall from grace earlier this year. He said that his study comparing vaccinated primates with unvaccinated controls — first published online last year in the Elsevier publication NeuroToxicology but later retracted by the journal’s editor-in-chief — has been accepted in another journal (not one published by Elsevier, he noted). A second paper that uses neuroimaging to look for changes in the amygdala following vaccination is also in preparation, he said. He also mentioned a follow-up study, planned in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle, that plans to examine the effect of thimerosol on 80 macaque mothers to see if the vaccine preservative influences offspring development.
After the talk, which earned Wakefield a standing ovation from the crowd of around 80, I had the opportunity to pose the last questions of the Q&A session. I asked Wakefield if he had any regrets or saw any flaws in his work. No, he said, except being “a bit brash sometimes” to authorities such as the GMC.
I also invited his thoughts on what to say to the parents of children who die from preventable diseases such as measles because their classmates do not get vaccinated. Over jeers of “big pharma shill,” I was chided for even insinuating that anyone was ‘anti-vaccine’ or that there was somehow a larger public health responsibility. That was it; the question session was over.