The Real Andy Wakefield
One of the most controversial, misrepresented figures of recent times, Dr. Andrew Wakefield has been maligned in Wikipedia, the press, science journals and other mainstream outlets -- all stemming from his challenge to claims that MMR vaccine is safe. In doing so, he has threatened one of the most powerful corporate cabals in history.
Here is the real story.
Before we leap into controversy, let's take a brief look at Wakefield's background:
Qualifications & Career Timeline
1981: Wakefield graduates from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School, part of the University of London, a fifth generation of his family to study medicine at this prestigious teaching hospital.
1985: Wakefield graduates as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, pursuing gastrointestinal surgery with a specialty in inflammatory bowel disease.
2001: After acceptance into the Royal College of Pathologists, Wakefield later focuses on academic gastroenterology where he manages a team of nineteen people at the Royal Free Hospital in London researching inflammatory bowel disease.
For a decade, Wakefield publishes more than 140 scientific papers and book chapters, and is invited to give scientific commentaries in the field of inflammatory bowel disease.
The MMR-Autism Controversy Timeline
During the early 1990s, while in the Royal Free Hospital medical library reading Fields Virology, Wakefield discovers a marked similarity between the description of how acute measles infection affects the intestines and Crohn’s Disease. Inspired by this observation, he begins to investigate the link between unusual patterns of measles exposure and inflammatory bowel disease. This leads him to collaborate and publish with Swedish doctors on the strong link in the Swedish population between measles in pregnancy and Crohn’s disease in the offspring.
The international team found that of four babies born in central Sweden in the 1970s to mothers who suffered measles during pregnancy, 3 of the 4 children developed severe Crohn’s Disease in their 20s - a rare occurrence that stacks up to odds of approximately 1 in 6 million. Wakefield’s discovery led to the question of why has Crohn’s disease appeared with increasing frequency in children whose only exposure to measles had been as the vaccine – clearly an unusual exposure.
In 1994, Wakefield publishes a study in the medical journal, The Lancet, sharing his findings in a paper titled “Is Measles Vaccine a Risk Factor for Inflammatory Bowel Disease?”
In 1995, he begins to be approached by parents who believe MMR vaccine is triggering developmental regression and gastrointestinal disorders in their children.
By 1996, Wakefield’s visibility as a scientist investigating the measles/gut connection reaches Solicitor Richard Barr of Dawbarns Law Firm, who consults with Wakefield to ask for his assistance in determining, medically and scientifically, whether MMR vaccine could cause autistic regression and inflammatory bowel disease in children who were allegedly injured by measles-containing vaccines. Barr is representing a group of parents who claim MMR vaccine caused their childrens’ disabilities, which includes autism. Initially, Wakefield hesitated, since at this time he knew very little about autism.
Barr asks Wakefield to provide his scientific and medical expertise on two questions: (1) whether measles could persist in the intestine following exposure to an MMR vaccine; and (2) whether measles virus could lead to complications such as Crohn’s disease or autism. Wakefield agrees.
In August 1996, research funding for a laboratory technician from the UK’s Legal Aid Board is confirmed. Wakefield informs his colleagues, line manager, and medical school authorities that if Barr’s MMR litigation progresses he intends to serve as an expert witness. This fact was then disclosed in the UK national press and to Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet medical journal, one year prior to The Lancet publishing Wakefield’s paper about the first twelve children with autism and bowel disease. Under oath, Horton later denies his advanced knowledge which is exposed during cross examination in a medical tribunal.
In July 1997, Wakefield and Professor John Walker-Smith, a leading pediatric gastroenterologist at the Royal Free Hospital, complete their examination and write-up of twelve patients known as the “Lancet Twelve.” These twelve children were the first to be investigated at the Royal Free Hospital who had been experiencing chronic, gastrointestinal symptoms and developmental regression following MMR vaccine.
In October 1997, litigation-related studies begin. Some of the pediatric patients from The Lancet study end up filing as plaintiffs in Barr’s litigation case, but only after their role in the case series is completed. The inclusion of some of the pediatric patients in Barr’s case causes quite a controversial stir for which, later, Wakefield is falsely accused of receiving undisclosed funding from the Legal Aid Board to conduct the work reported in The Lancet.
“It was alleged the study was done for the purpose of litigation, indeed that it was funded by lawyers for litigation. That is absolutely untrue. It simply was not. I agreed to be a medical expert, and I feel obliged to act as a medical expert on [the damaged children’s] behalf, because there were any number of doctors lining up on the other side, to be paid as experts, to act on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry.”
- Dr. Andrew Wakefield
In February 1998 Professor Arie Zuckerman, Dean of the Medical School at The Royal Free Hospital, holds a press conference to publicize The Lancet paper. Wakefield informs Zuckerman and his colleagues in advance, in writing, that he has significant concerns about the safety of MMR vaccine, alerting them explicitly to what he knew would be a very controversial stance.
Dean Zuckerman acknowledges Dr. Wakefield's concerns prior to the press conference. Yet during the press conference, Zuckerman signals Wakefield to field the controversial question. Wakefield stands by his stated belief surrounding MMR, and publicly proposes that parents opt for single dose measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines, which were an available alternative at the time in both the UK and the US.
The paper -- which was co-authored by Wakefield, Professor John Walker-Smith and 11 additional scientists -- is published in The Lancet, independently of any aspect of possible litigation. Professor Walker-Smith, Dr. Simon Murch and a team of additional physicians performed the clinically necessary examinations of the 12 children, while Dr. Wakefield coordinates a detailed research review of the novel brain-gut syndrome and a scientific review of the tissues obtained at biopsy.
This review is later completely misrepresented by journalist Brian Deer working for Rupert Murdoch.
By 1999, The Legal Aid Board funded study is completed.
As a result of all that has occurred with Wakefield’s research to date, in 2000, he testifies in front of the U.S. Congress during hearings on autism and vaccines. Clip available here.
In 2001, Wakefield is forced out of the Royal Free Hospital. That same year, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is asked if his newborn son has received the MMR, which he declines to answer.
By 2002, there are so many claims of vaccine injury / autism made by American families through the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Program -- a federal vaccine injury program replacing market liability for vaccine makers -- that the total compensation burden is poised to overwhelm the compensation fund. Cases are bundled together in what becomes known as the ‘Omnibus Autism Proceeding.’
In February 2004, The Sunday Times of London publishes a hit piece by Murdoch ‘journalist’ Brian Deer, who begins making false claims against Wakefield which continue to this day. As a part of Deer's libelous attacks, he misrepresents and rehashes false claims about Wakefield’s funding sources for the studies; exploits false narratives surrounding medical histories of the 12 children in the Lancet report; and makes untrue statements about events that to date have already been proven to be accurate.
January 2012, Wakefield files a defamation suit against Brian Deer and the British Medical Journal in Travis County, Texas. Jurisdiction is denied in the face of all legal precedent and the case never comes to trial.
As of June 2020, Deer and his publisher Johns Hopkins University Press attempt to promote and publish yet another libelous work against Wakefield. Legal action is anticipated.
The following is a 43-page complaint letter filed against Deer and JHUP in the spring of 2020. Following submission of the letter, the publication date of Deer’s book is bumped from the Spring to a September 2020 release.
Wakefield did what all good doctors and scientists are supposed to do: used logic and reason to explore connections in nature between man and microbes. By investigating (which is the absolute foundation of science) and reporting his findings (using ethical guidelines and traditional scientific methods), Wakefield’s career in medicine was cut short.
In 2014, Wakefield's first film, Who Killed Alex Spourdilakis? is released and is critically acclaimed.
In 2016 VAXXED: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe launches his career as a serious filmmaker.
To this day, Dr. Andrew Wakefield is credited by many health care practitioners who know his story as a pioneer in the study of the gut/brain connection in modern medicine.