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Vaccines and the autism myth - part 2

Video transcript
So in the last video, we talked about how many, many studies have been done that show that there were no links between MMR vaccine and autism. And in fact, other studies have been done to kind of pick apart all of the individual parts of the mechanism that the Wakefield study laid out-- that there is no link between vaccine and gut inflammation, there's no link between gut inflammation and autism. And so at this point, people are pretty convinced that there really is no link between MMR vaccine and autism. But many families and a lot of parents still believe this myth. And so people wondered about this initial Wakefield study-- how the results even came about. Now, an interesting thing happened in 2004. And this is a very unusual thing for a research study of any sort. But basically, 10 of the authors-- remember, there are 13 authors on this study. 10 of them actually retracted, and said, you know, our conclusions were not appropriate. And we're going to retract. So three of the authors did not. But the fact that 10 of them actually retracted was really striking and kind of raised a lot of eyebrows. Why in the world would people retract their initial study? So that same year, because of this very odd thing to have happened, a guy by the name of Brian Deer, who was a reporter-- he was actually working for a British newspaper, investigative journalist-- began his investigation. He actually started looking into this stuff. And Brian Deer is a guy that had been kind of well known for investigations in the past. He had investigated the pharmaceutical industry and other kind of powerful organizations. And he thought that he would take on this Wakefield study and really get to the bottom of it, understand where these results came from. And what he found was really shocking in a lot of ways. Turns out back in 1996, about two years before the Wakefield study, a group of lawyers who were actually hoping to sue the MMR vaccine manufacturers, they decided to pay Wakefield a large sum of money. So they paid Wakefield thousands and thousands of pounds, which is converted to even more US dollars, to actually carry out this study. So they paid him directly. And this money was not used for the patients, because the patients were part of the National Health Service and got their care through that. This was actually money given directly to Wakefield. So this is obviously a huge conflict of interest, and this is not something that Wakefield had ever told anyone. He didn't mention this when he published this study. And another thing that actually came out was that a year later, in 1997, it turned out that Wakefield actually had filed a patent. So Wakefield had placed a patent on a vaccine, of all things. So Wakefield had a patent on a vaccine that would have competed with the MMR vaccine. It was kind of an alternative MMR vaccine. And so again, this is a major conflict of interest. Because if he's doing a study on one vaccine and showing that it's not a great vaccine, that it causes autism, then obviously that sets him up very nicely to actually put out his own alternative version of the vaccine. So these are two huge conflicts of interest that he did not mention when he was publishing his study. Now let me make a bit of space on this canvas, and we'll get into what happened next. It turns out, between the years of 2007 and 2010-- so for about 2 and 1/2 years, there was an investigation. And this was done by the General Medical Council. So this group is actually both doctors and community members. And they actually review any sort of unethical behavior done by a doctor and make a decision about whether that person can go back and practice medicine. So this GMC group, they reviewed all the documents that Brian Deer had investigated and other information they had kind of dug up themselves. And they basically found a number of things. They found that he was being dishonest, first of all. And you might be thinking, well, obviously he was being dishonest about some things. He didn't mention his financial interests. That was a second issue. They said that he had a few opportunities to mention them. Beyond just publishing the paper, he had also gone to meetings and conferences. And repeatedly, he had kind of lied about his financial interests. They said that he was negligent-- that he had actually done, specifically, things to autistic children in his study that were medically negligent, inappropriate. And finally, that he was unskilled. And specifically, what I mean is that he was not a pediatrician. He was a general physician-- surgeon, specifically-- and that he really didn't have any business working on kids. So with the first point, dishonesty, let me just go back to that briefly and give you a little bit more detail. They found that he had actually picked his patients. He had found them not randomly as they came into the hospital, which is what he had said, but that the lawyers that he was working with actually put him in touch with patients that were very interested in suing the MMR vaccine manufacturer. And obviously, if you have a group that's ready to sue another group, then that's not random. And maybe there's some bias in what they're going to say. He also didn't get any ethical clearance from the hospital. So he had said that the ethical board had cleared everything that he was doing, but that wasn't true. Now, with his financial interests, he actually-- in addition to having that patent on a vaccine, he also had a company that sold something called "transfer factor." And this product was basically marketed to people that were looking for an alternative to the MMR vaccine. So of course, if you can make the vaccine look really bad or unsafe, then your company selling an alternative is going to do really well. Now, on the negligence point, this is actually really unfortunate. He, among other things-- and so I'm just going to pick out one of the things they mentioned-- he performed three lumbar punctures on kids that did not need them. Now, think about that. Three lumbar punctures. This is a needle in the back, and you're getting fluid that kind of bathes the brain. You're doing this procedure on kids that just didn't need the procedure done at all. And so this is obviously completely inappropriate. And finally, he, as I said, was unskilled. He was not a pediatrician. And he should not have been making clinical decisions about pediatric patients. That was obviously something that you need skill and training to do, and he never received any of that. So they actually looked at all this evidence, and they said that they were going to remove him from the medical registry. So based on all this evidence, they actually removed him from the medical registry. And once you're removed from a medical registry in one country, it becomes very, very hard to work in any other country. And so he effectively was now unable to practice medicine or even surgery, which is what he was trained to do, anywhere in the world. So when all this information kind of came out, just a few days after he was removed from the medical registry, The Lancet actually decided that they would remove the article, or retract the article. So now The Lancet, the medical journal he had published it in, the initial Wakefield study, retracted it completely. And finally, one question kind of lingered in many people's minds, in my mind as well, is that even if you accept all this, that he kind of dishonestly found these patients and had a financial interest and was negligent, it seems so strange that 12 children had gut inflammation. Now, that just seems like a very odd thing to find. And it makes you wonder whether there was something to his study in the first place. Well, it turned out that finally, in 2011-- which is very, very recent, actually-- that the hospital records were released. So hospital records on these patients were released. And it turned out that the pathologists that had actually looked at these kids' intestines had said and written down something very different from what he reported. So basically, there was this huge disconnect between the hospital records and what he reported in his study. So this Wakefield study, essentially, did not reflect reality. For example, some of these kids had completely normal intestines. And yet, in his study he reported that they had inflammation. Other times, parents reported symptoms at a certain time point. But because that didn't fit with his overall idea, he changed the dates. So between changing dates and changing what the hospital records say about inflammation, it became very clear that basically this entire thing was fabricated. So going back to the beginning, where we had this one study on 12 children that showed this link between vaccine and autism, we've come a long way. I mean, now this study's been completely discredited because he's essentially been shown to have lied at different points. And also, many other studies have kind of looked at this link, or this connection, and shown that there really is no link between vaccines and autism. The one problem that remains is that a lot of families and parents still believe this autism myth. And that leads them to not vaccinate, and it creates a lot of confusion about the real cause of autism.