Monday, June 12, 2006

Andrew Wakefield's Demise, Maybe

You might not know his name, but in Autism circles everyone knows Andrew Wakefield, the British Medical Doctor who proposed that the Measles Mumps Rubella vaccine was associated with bowel changes and potential dysfunction and possibly, autism. His research was published in the well-regarded Lancet. His findings have been hotly debated and caused all sorts of consternation since.

Who is upset?

  1. Drug companies who manufacture the vaccine. In parts of Scotland, vaccination levels have dropped by 20% or more.
  2. Epidemiologists and medical professionals who believe vaccines are the modern world's health savior.
  3. Parents torn about what to do for their children, especially when they saw changes after their kids were immunized, usually around 18 months. Some parents don't believe a link between vaccines and autism exist. Some parents are absolutely convinced a causitive relationship.
The ruckus continues. The Lancet has been criticized for allowing sub-par studies into the esteemed publication. Dr. Wakefield has been criticized for conflicts of interests. (I won't list them here.) Drug companies who enjoy BILLIONS of dollars for making vaccines aren't particularily interested in finding any relationship between their product and a pervasive disease that has increased 500 fold in the last ten years (and no, it is not just over-diagnosis). And, in fact, no long-term studies have been done on vaccines. No studies have been done on children for many of the vaccines (Hepatitis B, for one).

Personally, I'm not sure where the problem lies with vaccines and autism. I don't believe that there isn't one--too many parents saw their children completely change after the vaccine. So many components make up the vaccine, though, that it's hard to say. Is it the mercury? Is it the delivery (when we get sick our nose and throat deliver the immune response--perhaps the body isn't responding naturally. Evidence exists that the nasal flu vaccine works better and in lower doses.)? Is it contamination? Is it other stabilizing constituents? Is it the high fever that some children get--the immune response and inflamation itself that causes the problem?

Anyway, Dr. Wakefield is important not just for his little corner of the healthcare universe. He is important because his actions reveal the dark underbelly of the healthcare universe. Read up about the whole controversy if you're interested in knowing more about the politics of health care. Or don't. You many not trust your medication so blindly, after learning more.

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