Saturday December 6 2008
Writing this column only really scares me because I wonder whether everything else in the media is as shamelessly, venally, manipulatively, one-sidedly, selectively reported on as the things I know about. I’m not going to go on about MMR again. But this week the reality editing was truly without comparison.
On Tuesday, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Mirror, the Express, the Mail, and the Metro all reported that a coroner was hearing the case of a toddler who died after receiving the MMR vaccine, which the parents blame for their loss. “Toddler ‘died after MMR jab’” (Metro), “‘Healthy’ baby died after MMR jab” (Independent), you know the headlines by now. I wouldn’t want you to think the MMR story had died, just because a few kids have died of measles.
On Thursday, the coroner announced his verdict: that the vaccine played no part in this child’s death. So far, of the papers above, only the Telegraph have had the decency to cover the outcome. The Independent, the Mirror, the Express, the Mail, and the Metro have all decided that their readers are better off not knowing. Compare here and here. Tick, tock.
Does it stop there? No. Moron amateur physicians have long enjoyed speculating that MMR and other vaccinations are somehow “harmful to the immune system” – whatever that means – and responsible for the rise in conditions like asthma and hay fever. Doubtless they must have been waiting some time for evidence to appear, either supporting or refuting their claim.
This month a significant paper was published by Hviid and Melbye in the December 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. They examined the experiences of 871,234 childre in a Danish birth cohort, comparing asthma in those who had MMR against those who didn’t. MMR-vaccinated children were massively and significantly less often hospitalised with an asthma diagnosis, and used fewer courses of anti-asthma medication than unvaccinated children. This “protective” effect of the MMR vaccine was more pronounced for hospitalisations with severe asthma diagnoses.
Those results aren’t just incompatible with an increased risk of asthma following MMR vaccination, they actually support the hypothesis that MMR vaccination is associated with a reduced risk of asthma in young children. Tick, tock.
And most astonishing of all is the tale of the “the Uhlmann paper“, or the “O’leary paper” (journalists were often careful not to mention that Andrew Wakefield was a co-author, I’ve no idea why): this came out in 2002 and claimed to have found evidence of vaccine measles virus in tissue samples from children with autism and bowel problems, to massive media acclaim.
As I’ve said previously, two similar papers, by Afzal et al and D’Souza et al, in 2006 found negative results on almost the same question, and were unanimously ignored by the media (even though D’Souza actively went out of their way to show how O’Leary et al got false positives).
Stephen Bustin is Professor of Molecular Science at Barts and the London. He examined the O’Leary lab for the court case against MMR, as an expert witness for the drug company defendants (look how I was nice and told you that, if you’re a moron, you’ll use it to allow yourself to cheerily ignore everything he found). The case collapsed, and he was unable to discuss his findings. Then he was called to give evidence in the american “autism omnibus” case against the vaccine. The anti-vaccine movement did their best to prevent this. They knew what he had found: it appears to be incontrovertible evidence that the lab was detecting false positives.
Now Bustin has finally been able to write about what he found in O’Leary’s lab, on this crucial paper from 2002. He published this month. Nobody who covered the original O’leary paper has written about it. Not a soul will.
Measles cases are rising. Middle class parents are not to blame, even if they do lack rhetorical panache when you try and have a discussion with them about it: they have been systematically and vigorously misled by the media, the people with access to all the information, who still choose, collectively, between themselves, so robustly that it might almost be a conspiracy, to give you only half the facts. Today, I have merely given you some small part of the other half, and next week I will move on: but know that nobody else has.
Please send your bad science to firstname.lastname@example.org