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February 6, 2010

Dr. Andrew Wakefield and the Distasteful Practice of the Ignorant “Pile On”

pileonI have been watching and listening to the media circus following the vilification of Dr. Andrew Wakefield with great interest and sadness. I pray that people will rise above our sound bite world to understand that there is a tremendous amount at stake and we all better be paying careful attention.


Here’s what you need to know. In February 1998, a paper entitled Ileal-lymphoid-nodular-hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder was submitted by thirteen medical researchers to the Lancet, a British medical journal, observing the presence of a novel form of inflammatory bowel disease in twelve children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. All children received the combination measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and onset behavioral symptoms were noted after receipt of the triple jab in 8 of the 12 children. The paper recommended further inquiry and explicitly stated no proof of causation between vaccination and autism. That’s it. There is nothing in the paper that could lead anyone to state that the authors intended to wage war against the wisdom of vaccination in general or the MMR vaccine specifically.


There can be no doubt that the paper struck a chord among parents worldwide, already consumed with anxiety about the dramatic increase in very ill children diagnosed with autism, and the more important fact that our medical establishment and public health officials still have no idea why. The degree of parental concern is not unreasonable. Governments and doctors employ a variety of ways to urge and compel us to vaccinate. The trend has been to give more shots and earlier. In the U.S., we now start on day of birth. Excluding the present addition of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine and a double dose for children under ten, fully 69 doses of 16 different vaccines are currently recommended to age 18. Increasingly, people are questioning whether all these shots are such a good idea.


There can be no doubt that the paper also struck a chord within the medical establishment.  Many parents stopped vaccinating and government was hopping mad.

The Lancet paper merely offered an organized and methodical framework to view data on twelve children. It also recommended we do more science. What parents chose to do with this information is a separate issue.  That many stopped vaccinating to await the outcome of further scientific inquiry can be regarded as a public health failing, not the fault of one medical journal article about the experiences of twelve children.  What has subsequently unfolded is a systematic, chilling and deeply unfortunate process to blame the authors of the paper for reduced vaccination uptake.

Ten of the authors retracted their support. This happened six years later, in 2004, and is entirely understandable. Who could blame them? Their reputations, credentials and livelihood were at stake. Remarkably, however, the first author, Andrew Wakefield, would not retract. What has ensued, culminating in the General Medical Council’s recent decision to censure Wakefield, is a very public smackdown. The purpose is to send an unambiguous message to other researchers who might dare possess a similar degree of arrogance and continue their scientific research into the causes of a disorder affecting a great number of very sick children.


It is also instructive how the media has seized, indeed lunged at the opportunity to draw applicability of the Wakefield example in our country, while failing to highlight a salient difference. Britons enjoy the privilege of vaccination choice. They cannot be compelled by their government to vaccinate for any reason, including a requirement for school admission or employment. Over half of Americans, in thirty-two states, do not have vaccination choice. If we are so keen to compare ourselves to our friends across the pond, perhaps we should start by looking at the reasons why they have choice and we do not.


Doctors have wasted no time in pillorying one of their own. Overnight, Andrew Wakefield has become the poster child for irresponsible and unethical medicine. I find the medical “pile-on” reprehensible. And I urge doctors who care about their profession to take heed. Please consider the following an open letter to all professionals who take the extraordinary step to label anyone concerned about vaccines: anti-vaccine, vaccine deniers, irresponsible, and societal parasites. Our nation must find the way to engage in a responsible and respectful dialogue about vaccines. In my opinion, the failure to do so will irrevocably damage public confidence in government, medicine and industry.


This letter is written in response to Dr. Albert Fuchs who wrote a February 5, 2010 post entitled Twelve Years Later, The Truth About Vaccines and Autism for his blog Nice Jewish Doctor.

Dear Dr. Fuchs and Dr. G.N. who isn’t brave enough to use his real name,

You benefit from the tremendous courtesy extended to you as physicians and medical doctors. The basis of your professional status in society rests upon the confidence people place in your credential, the training and study behind it, and the bottom line belief that you are worthy of their trust.

You, and your fellow medical colleagues who, astonishingly, stoop to insult concerned and probing individuals, are an abomination and your behavior begs the question of your motivations. Do you demand passive and obedient patients? It goes against everything you were taught as a student of science and medicine. Observation is the first step in scientific inquiry. The pursuit of scientific knowledge did not end the precise moment you obtained your MD.

Let’s say that, every single time after eating a certain kind of food, you vomit and you have wretched diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain. What if you are told the food is good for you and you must eat it because it could save your life? Other people seem to do well with the food, so you press on. But each time, after you eat it, your health deteriorates. Would you keep eating the food? Would you give it to your children, who experience the same symptoms? What if you started to research the food and you learn that some have been compensated because of harm/death caused by this food? What if you discovered that many people who are sick like you ate the same food?

What if the people you trusted the most began to call you terrible names because you exercised your right not to eat this food?

No matter the agenda of your august colleagues and medical associations, you owe it to your patients to tell them that the jury is still out regarding the long-term health outcomes of vaccination. There is a bill languishing in Congress that seeks to compare the unvaccinated versus the vaccinated. The CDC is about to launch a National Children’s Study that follows over 100,000 mother-baby pairs for twenty years to observe the effects of toxic chemical exposures, excluding vaccines and the toxic chemical ingredients in vaccines, such as mercury and aluminum. Why exclude vaccines?

There are laws protecting our rights as individuals and parents. These are foundational principles of this country and defend our right to individual security, individual autonomy, and the ability to safeguard our person. Government attempts to mandate or force vaccines rest solely on the premise of public health emergencies. So let’s go through the shots, one by one, and investigate whether the true public health crisis in this country is one of chickenpox, seasonal flu, polio, Hepatitis B, cervical cancer, measles, Hepatitis A, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus (and 7 others). Or whether the true public health crisis today is that we have the infant mortality rate of a Third World country, chronic illness is through the roof, fully 1% of our children now have autism, and in response to all these shocking statistics…

you and your finger-pointing colleagues have absolutely no idea why.

Sirs, if you cannot support that science must be pursued without prejudice… and if you cannot accept that there are laws that protect individual rights including those that permit us to protect our very lives… at least do your profession and the rest of us a service and keep your mouths shut.

Sincerely yours,

Louise Kuo Habakus

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