I had no clue as to who Andrew Wakefield was, until news of a measles outbreak in hit the headlines. Quick research on the man led me to find out that he had published one paper for The Lancet in 1998, suggesting that there was a link between the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) and autism. After a press conference in which he raised his concerns, the paper was discredited and Wakefield resigned from his job at the NHS. This resulted in a decline in vaccination rates along with a rise in measles cases. The last I read, there were 808 cases of measles in Wales and around 3,400 people turned up to be vaccinated at clinics – that is excluding the 1600 individuals who turned up prior to that. There are questions that run through my mind as to how one individual’s continuous persistence in the validity of the research he published and using the media to convey this, has led to such an epidemic.
It’s quite surprising that parents were clearly influenced by his words and feared potential harm to the development of their children, because of one mere vaccination. I do feel that there are two groups of people. The first group blindly follow the advice of their doctors and may not even pay attention to the importance of vaccinations given at schools, but still decide to follow through with a process, that seems natural as it will ‘benefit their kid.’ Yes, these parents don’t possess scientific expertise, but what they clearly have is enough sense to make sure that they follow the advice of those who do have medical expertise. Unfortunately, the second group of people seem to be those in this case that took Wakefield’s words seriously, and decided to not get their children immunised. It also didn’t help that the media allowed it to become such a massive story in healthcare, potentially causing an outbreak of measles. I read an article about how a couple, both with scientific backgrounds, carried out research during that time in 1998, to weigh up the pros and cons of getting their child the jab after Wakefield published his research:
For me, this put into perspective how even those with sound scientific knowledge took a lot of steps to make a decision about the vaccination. Two things stand out:
a) The research by Wakefield got people thinking about the risks associated with the MMR vaccine in a very serious way.
b) Too much knowledge can’t be best for you all the time.
As Helen Bedford points out succinctly, it’s extremely important to make sure that children are protected.