During most of human history, families and communities feared diseases such as small pox, influenza, tuberculosis. And rightly so – these scourges were responsible for the deaths of millions. So with the advent of vaccinations, humanity should have finally been relieved from the worries of these horrible, yet now preventable, diseases. Unfortunately, despite the widespread acceptance of vaccinations, notable events have set back progress against one particular disease – measles.
Measles, once considered conquered in most of the developed world, is now making resurgence in the United Kingdom. Why? Parents fear vaccinating their children. The Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccination rate nationwide dropped as low as 84% during the last decade. Following the drop, measles became more prevalent, infecting thousands after a decade of steep declines. In fact, measles infection rates are at their highest rates in well over a decade. Unfortunately, this also coincided with multiple deaths stemming from measles – deaths that were all preventable.
Why the drop in vaccinations? In this instance, there is clear reason. A widely-publicized study in 1998 found a correlation between the MMR vaccination, autism and bowel disease. Any rational parent would fear causing autism in their child, especially when the perceived risk of catching measles was at an all-time low.
What makes this especially disturbing is that the chance of developing autism from receiving an MMR vaccination is…none. The original study was recently deemed fraudulent and formally retracted. To create this “study” the lead researcher, Andrew Wakefield, is accused of grossly manipulating data. One of the longest medical board investigations in UK history found that all 12 cases included in the original study were altered. Multiple studies which followed showed absolutely no link between the MMR vaccination and autism. In short, he fabricated the story completely.
Why do such a thing? To start, Wakefield accepted over £435,000 in compensation. This pay, provided by a national legal aid fund for the poor, came at the behest of litigators looking to build a case against the makers of the MMR vaccine. Moreover, Wakefield had various business ventures which would benefit greatly from such a linkage, to the tune of at least £28M per year.
Yet despite overwhelming evidence that the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism, perpetually low vaccination rates remain in the UK. Performing a root cause analysis of the measles epidemic in the UK and building a Cause Map reveals the causes contributing to the problem, including the role Wakefield’s bogus study played. Medical studies are complex and rely on the integrity and analytic skills of the researchers involved. Inaccurate conclusions, sensationalism and fraud all can lead to unintended and dangerous consequences.
Click on “Download PDF” to see the Cause Map detailing the drop in UK vaccination rates due to the Wakefield Autism & MMR Study.
(Details of this case were recently published in the British Medical Journal.)