The Media’s Obsession With the ‘Debunked’ Lancet Study

The Media’s Obsession With the ‘Debunked’ Lancet Study

How many times have you read or heard about the “debunked”1 2 3 study published in the British medical journal The Lancet in 1998 that described “gastrointestinal and developmental regression in a group of previously normal children?”4 Probably lots of times, particularly if you follow the debate on the safety of vaccines and the ethics of mandatory vaccination.

It is interesting how often you find the word debunked in news reports promoting “consensus science” about the absolute safety of vaccines. The word debunked is especially prevalent in articles relentlessly attacking the “vaccine hesitant,” who are often characterized as irrational, selfish, scientifically illiterate “anti-vaxxers.” Journalists persist in engaging in name-calling when disparaging parents who either don’t want to vaccinate their children or, more often, do not want to give them all of the government recommended and mandated vaccines at precisely the times dictated, especially if their children have already had a serious reaction to previous vaccinations.

The 1998 paper published in The Lancet was retracted in 2010.5 It is often referenced by the media to reassure the public that the case series study of 12 children, which examined clinical evidence for a possible association between receipt of MMR (mumps, measles, rubella) vaccine and gastrointestinal illness accompanied by symptoms of regression, including loss of acquired skills such as language, was not only false but a deliberate hoax.

The 1998 Lancet article is often characterized by the media as the spark that led to the 21st century “anti-vaccine movement” and fueled unfounded concerns by parents about a potential link between vaccines and autism and the safety of vaccines in general.6 7 8 9 10

A survey published earlier this year by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association found that 45 percent of Americans have doubts about the safety of vaccines.11 12

Although the media continually uses the word debunked to describe the study, it is unclear what exactly was debunked. To begin with, the study published in The Lancet was a clinical research paper written by a team of 13 doctors and consisting of a series of clinical observations of 12 children who had received the MMR vaccine and later developed gastrointestinal dysfunction, developmental delays, and a constellation of clinical symptoms of brain and immune dysfunction that doctors often diagnose as “autism.”4

In the Discussion section of the paper, the authors made it clear that they did “not prove an association between the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described”—syndrome referring to the collection of gastrointestinal and behavior symptoms the authors observed. The authors added:

If there is a causal link between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and this syndrome, a rising incidence might be anticipated after the introduction of this vaccine in the UK in 1988. Published evidence is inadequate to show whether there is a change in incidence.4

The authors ended their paper by stressing that they had not proved there was a link between receipt of MMR vaccine by the 12 children they evaluated, who had been given a medical diagnosis of gastrointestinal illness and developmental delays.

We have identified a chronic enterocolitis in children that may be related to neuropsychiatric dysfunction. In most cases, onset of symptoms was after measles, mumps, and rubella immunisation. Further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome and its possible relation to this vaccine.4

In short, what the authors of the paper in The Lancet came up with was… We haven’t proven anything. We simply think our findings deserve further scientific investigation. Because we are concerned.


References:

1 Belluz J. Research fraud catalyzed the anti-vaccination movement. Let’s not repeat history. Vox Mar. 5, 2019.
2 Buncombe A. Andrew Wakefield: How a disgraced UK doctor has remade himself in anti-vaxxer Trump’s America. Independent May 4, 2018.
3 Graham R.  Vaccine Skeptics Are Excited About Donald Trump’s Presidency. Slate Nov. 30, 2016.

4 Wakefield AJ, Murch SH, Anthony A, Linnell J, Casson DM, Malik M, Berelowitz M, Dhillon AP, Thomson MA,  Harvey P, Valentine A, Davies SE, Walker-Smith JA. Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. The Lancet Feb. 28, 1998; 351(9103): 637-41.
5 Eggerton L. Lancet retracts 12 year old article linking autism to MMR vaccines. CMAJ 2010; 182(4): E199-E200.
6 Belluck P, Abelson R. Vaccine Injury Claims Are Few and Far Between. The New York Times June 18, 2019.
7 Lombardi P, Bernstein B. Measles Outbreak Plagues Europe’s Young Adults. The Wall Street Journal July 4, 2019.

8 Mammoser G. Fact or Fiction: Debunking the Latest Anti-Vax Myths. Healthline Mar. 7, 2019.

9 Crane MA. Anti-vaccine hysteria is at an all-time high. Gov. Newsom isn’t helping. The Sacramento Bee June 11, 2019.

10 Max. I have autism and I am offended by the anti-vax movement. Newsweek June 19, 2019.

11 Renner B. Surprising Survey Shows 45% Of Americans Doubt Safety Of Vaccines. Study Finds June 25, 2019.

12 Streva V. New poll finds 45 percent of Americans still doubt the safety of vaccines. Philly Voice June 24, 2019.
 

Note: This commentary provides referenced information and perspective on a topic related to vaccine science, policy, law or ethics being discussed in public forums and by U.S. lawmakers.  The websites of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) provide information and perspective of federal agencies responsible for vaccine research, development, regulation and policymaking.

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11 Responses to "The Media’s Obsession With the ‘Debunked’ Lancet Study"

  1. Redpill   October 11, 2019 at 9:27 am

    Name calling is the last refuge of the outargued. If you must resort to name calling you’ve lost the argument.

    I don’t understand how the media (or the medical community) say that Dr. Wakefield committed fraud with this REPORT when they never actually read it. As stated in this article the report never said that the MMR caused Autism. It simply said there needed to be more research. How many reports and studies on medical matters concluded with there needs to be more studies? PHARMA WAS LOOKING FOR A BOOGEYMAN and they chose Wakefield. Why him? Because he wouldn’t play ball with them and he put the lives of children first.

    Interesting things about that report that faux journalist and the media have never reported on:
    -the complaint was not made by anyone in the medical community. It was made by a reporter named Brian Deer who was on the payroll of Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch owns the News Corp. He is also said to own several vaccine making companies in Australia. Deer was the complaint and keep the story going for years. He is everything a journalist is not.
    -no one in the MSM has asked this simple question: How did Brian Deer get access to private medical records of the 12 children in the report? Who gave him access?
    – it took the General Medical Council (GMC) to pull Wakefield’s license to practice medicine in the UK on the basis of his work on autism, 12 YEARS after initial publication. Yet, there was another paper that was written:
    “Acute Encephalopathy Followed by Permanent Brain Injury or Death Associated With Further Attenuated Measles Vaccines: A Review of Claims Submitted to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program”https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/101/3/383.long?sso=1&sso_redirect_count=1&nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token

    This paper was published one month after Wakefield’s original Lancet paper, a study of vaccine injury claims by US government scientists in the journal Pediatrics found that 48 claimants developed encephalopathy within 15 days after receiving an attenuated measles vaccine, resulting in severe neurological sequelae or death. This happened in “a nonrandom, statistically significant distribution of cases on days 8 and 9.” The authors concluded:

    This clustering suggests that a causal relationship between measles vaccine and encephalopathy may exist as a rare complication of measles immunization.

    Not a peep from anyone. This paper said what Wakefield’s did not.

    The actual reason the Wakefield paper was targeted-PAPERWORK. The editors of the Lancet listed two reasons: the children were not “consecutively referred” and the studies weren’t “approved by the local ethics committee”.

    BUT—-The England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) Decisions of February 2012 adjudicated in the trial of Prof. Dr. Walker-Smith who sued to have his license returned stated this: The judge, MR JUSTICE MITTING, who presided over Walker-Smith’s exoneration and reviewed the Lancet paper in detail could not find any evidence of this. His one major quibble was over the statement about ethical approval paper which Walker-Smith says he did not see – however this is accurate too.

    “Ethical approval and consent “Investigations were approved by the Ethical Practices Committee of the Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust, and parents gave informed consent.” The paper did not have ethical approval and consent and did not need it because it was simply a review of patient data (which was what was on the tin). The procedures needed ethical approval and consent and had them.

    The integrity and accuracy of the results of this report has never been disputed by anyone. From an ethical standpoint that paper should have been re-instated in 2012 but if that happens, game over for pharma.

    Reply
    • Lm   December 28, 2019 at 5:07 am

      Love this!!! 💕 thank you for the info on the other article that was published around the same time, I haven’t heard of it before.

      Reply
  2. carefulmom   December 28, 2019 at 1:41 am

    @Redpill: Thank you so much for all that extra information. Very helpful. I personally am not offended by the term anti-vaxxer. I’ve done the research, read the reports, and with the welfare of my children (and all children) in mind, have come to the logical conclusion that to be pro-health and pro-safety is to be anti-vaccine.

    Reply
  3. Mark   December 28, 2019 at 8:12 am

    By this very well written article, you’ve provided the answer to your initial question, about why the media continue to inaccurately report Wakefield’s findings as anti-vaccine, instead of just vaccine science. There is a need by big pharma (and industrial medicine as well) to protect its financial base. once the Pandora’s box of fraud by big pharma is opened, it could be game over for big pharma (and possibly for Pediatrics, as it is presently practiced). The influence of big pharma on mainstream medical journalism, including the Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine and others can not be underestimated. The publishers realize what is at stake and, as Marcia Angell revealed in The Truth About the Drug Companies, have lost their moral compass in their efforts to protect the status quo.

    Reply
  4. elizabeth keith   December 28, 2019 at 11:30 am

    I would love to see Dr Wakefield get justice on this…before he dies of old age. much love to Dr Wakefield.

    Reply
  5. Lady M   December 28, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    Dr. Wakefield and his team were doing science and apparently, if that science may potentially conflict with Pharma profits, it needs to be stopped. There are currently studies which are succeeding in healing autism with fecal transplants. This validates the Lancet study which showed a direct correlation with vaccine strain virus in the digestive systems of autistic children. Will the FDA hold up approval of the game-changing medical intervention of fecal transplants for autism because it will help validate the Lancet study?

    Reply
  6. CHANTAL ANDERSEN   December 28, 2019 at 4:51 pm

    Thanks for this inciteful information about this study and Dr. Wakefield….he is not against vaccines but suggestsed investigating further. A book could be written about the false and dangerousi nformation given to patients over many years by physicians and the medical establishment. One that comes to mind is the assurance that radiation from xrays was not dangerous, when xrays were introduced. Pregnant women in England were assured that no harm would come to their fetuses from xrays. Dr. Alice Stewart of England’s Oxford University found the reason for 50% increase of children dying from leukemia was caused by their pregnant mothers having been exposed to xrays during pregnancy. Dr. Stewart was criticized by the medical community and the nuclear industry. But in 1962 Dr. Brian MacMahon from Harvard confirmed her findings in a stunning rebuttal to the general medical establishment’s denial. Think about thalidomide and the terrible harm caused to the unborn children, their mothers having been given assurances that the drug would cause no problem to the pregnant mothers. Think of the many, many drugs that have had to be taken off the market due to their dangerous and life threatening effects. People were assured that you could not get HIV from the blood supply when HIV was recognized in the early 1980s. The list goes on and on. I am a registered nurse with 33 years of experience and have seen first hand the dangers caused by some physicians and the medical establishment. The number of vaccinations given now versus 35 years ago is huge. Why would a newborn baby need a hepatitis B shot before even leaving the hospital? You get hepatitis B from blood exchange or from sexual contact or if the mother has hepatitis B. We were vaccinated as healthcare workers due to the potential of blood splashes or needle sticks from contaminated patients. How is a baby or toddler going to get hepatitis B?

    Reply
  7. rachel   December 28, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    I like being called a health supporter rather than an anti-vaxxer. This vaccine issue is all about control and spreading false information and fear while suppressing the truth. The media makes 70% of its’ money from pharmaceutical advertising revenues and will not tell the truth about vaccines or lose that profit. Spreading lies is simply a way to pacify their advertisers. The misleaders have convinced billions of people around the world that they need vaccines to be healthy, when just a very very small percentage of people have the measles, mumps or whatever. How sad that people believe and submit out of fear.

    Reply
  8. Ted Kuntz   December 28, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    What is apparent with the media’s reporting of the Lancet study is that they’ve never read the study. What we are witnessing is not journalism. The media has sold its soul and can no longer be trusted as a reliable source of information.

    Reply
  9. Toni   January 1, 2020 at 12:06 am

    thanks for the article and the info … great comments too

    Reply
  10. Don   January 1, 2020 at 8:49 am

    An excellent and extensive analysis of the Wakefield affair can be found here: https://ahrp.org/laffaire-wakefield-shades-of-dreyfus-bmjs-descent-into-tabloid-science/
    Following on what Redpill said in comments, the GMC could only find Wakefield and Walker-Smith guilty by pretending that the clinical study was a research study and, because it was “research,” the children were abused as research subjects (i.e., unnecessary tests, not clinically indicated, were ordered.) But there’s zero evidence that the Lancet study was actually research study 172-96, as Brian Deer and the GMC alleged. And, there was no victim: the parents complained that they were not allowed to testify on behalf of the doctors, and none of them believed that their children were abused in any way. The Lancet paper should be reinstated. Wakefield should get his medical license back, and the GMC should be severely censored for that atrocious abuse of power.

    Reply

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