Wakefield-Driven Vaccine False Alarm Threatens Real Vaccine Science

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According to Kate Kelland, writing a special report for Reuters, the
repercussions of the false-alarm vaccine scare inflicted on the world
courtesy of Andrew Wakefield go beyond suppressed vaccine uptake rates. They also extend to inhibiting dissemination of important adverse-event-related findings about other vaccines.
Thanks to the fact that the MMR scare proved to be a lot of sound and
fury, signifying nothing, scientists are wary of other reports of
vaccine-related problems, concerned that they, too, might be another
cry-wolf tale. As Kelland writes, it has become …

… an increasingly tough challenge for scientists balancing
compelling data with public concern over vaccines and their side
effects. Treatments which stimulate immunity to disease are highly
controversial. In the past couple of decades – especially after a
British doctor made now-discredited claims linking the
measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism – the field has become
even more charged. After the false alarm sounded by British doctor
Andrew Wakefield, some scientists say they are more hesitant to credit
reports of potential side effects from vaccines.

The Reuters story is pinned on emerging findings that one version of an H1N1 vaccine (Pandemrix,
not used in the US) is linked to an increased incidence of narcolepsy
among children, especially in Scandinavian countries. First reports were
met with skepticism, including my own, but further studies indicate a
real link. Yet the scientist who made these findings had trouble getting
them published because researchers and journal editors eyed askance
claims about adverse events and vaccines, given how empty the charges of
an MMR-autism link proved to be. And that’s not good for science.

Written By: Emily Willingham
continue to source article at forbes.com

6 COMMENTS

  1. I’ll be honest; I’m not sure this problem is happening. I shall to try explain why.

    scientists are wary of other reports of vaccine-related problems, concerned that they, too, might be another cry-wolf tale.

    Scientists are right to be sceptical at first of new “A causes B” claims, whether or not the Wakefield case is recalled.

    one version of an H1N1 vaccine (Pandemrix, not used in the US) is linked to an increased incidence of narcolepsy among children, especially in Scandinavian countries. First reports were met with skepticism, including my own, but further studies indicate a real link. Yet the scientist who made these findings had trouble getting them published because researchers and journal editors eyed askance claims about adverse events and vaccines, given how empty the charges of an MMR-autism link proved to be. And that’s not good for science.

    Are we sure that’s why the paper had trouble getting published? Papers often do have such trouble. And even if a good paper had gone unpublished altogether, or had taken too long to publish, reproduction of its results, which is necessary to form a scientific consensus in their favour anyway, would change matters. It’s unclear that such a consensus was any slower to form.

    It’d be great if scientists could just do their research, crunch their numbers, and publish the results so that others could work on replicating or not replicating them and publish, too. But obviously, that’s not how the process really works. Journals have a reputation to consider

    Publishing a paper, however shocking its findings may initially be, only damages a journal’s reputation if that paper is subsequently shown to be methodologically flawed. In the case of Wakefield, the Lancet withdrew their publication of his paper because such a flaw came to light only after it had been published. But no-one should blame the Lancet for that, because the flaw in question – namely, fraud – couldn’t have been detected in 1998.

    That’s not to say the Lancet has been treated fairly; but has the research defended herein been treated unfairly? Having read the paper, I can see possible reasons for journals’ concern (the correlation-causation distinction springs to mind), and different journals can have different peer review standards.

    More generally, the idea that good research showing genuine dangers of vaccines aren’t getting published, and that this is preventing us from knowing about these vaccines’ true dangers, and that the cause of this slowness to publish said good research is due to a fear for journals’ reputations, ought to be defended with better evidence than in this article, or else not asserted at all.

    And we must remember, also, that unless the alleged dangers are so great as to make the vaccines a bad idea overall, the best outcome is still to roll out the “flawed” vaccine until an improved version is in place. I’ve yet to hear of any vaccine for which that isn’t so; even if Wakefield’s “MMR causes autism” allegation had been true, it still seems it would be a good vaccine on balance. (Anyone who disagrees needs to learn more about autism and/or measles.)

    But had the MMR scare never happened, that day would likely have come a lot sooner. And we have to wonder if other findings are struggling to see the light, thanks to the shadow of false accusations lingering from the MMR debacle.

    I’m still wondering if it’s true in this case.

    • In reply to #1 by Jos Gibbons:

      I’ll be honest; I’m not sure this problem is happening. I shall to try explain why.

      To say the scientific community is immune to prejudice, irrationality, unaffected by cries of wolf, politics, culture, and other non-scientific factors is absurd. It is at least an extraordinary claim requiring like evidence. I understand the ideals you site, but I don’t think they have ever been a reality. There are tons of examples where the previously listed factors have corrupted the process. I don’t think we’ve ever been clean of these things, and maybe we should not want to be (despite obvious problems).

      For instance, what if editors gave equal and fair consideration to papers denying evolution? Nothing would get done. As it is, such submissions are dismissed without fair evaluation because it is reasonable to assume it is politically or superstitiously motivated. However, there is no such lobby denying gravity. A paper denying the existence of gravity will get a fair read, even though its claim is so contrary to the status quo.

      If the article’s claims are true, I don’t fault the scientific community for not sampling from a poisoned well.

      • In reply to #2 by This Is Not A Meme:

        To say the scientific community is immune to prejudice, irrationality, unaffected by cries of wolf, politics, culture, and other non-scientific factors is absurd.

        I didn’t say anything like that. But to claim the reason anti-vaccine findings are slow to be published is because of Wakefield’s influence is very different from denying the immunity of which you speak. I think there are alternative explanations.

        I understand the ideals you site [sic], but I don’t think they have ever been a reality.

        Well, since you’ve misrepresented what I said anyway, let’s see what is, or has ever been, a reality, shall we? Wakefield was a fraudster – that’s reality. This narcolepsy paper was published – that’s reality. Reproduction of its results is also published – that’s reality. But remembering Wakefield slowed the original publication? I don’t know. It slowed the confirmation of reproducibility? That’s not backed up by the evidence at all.

        what if editors gave equal and fair consideration to papers denying evolution? Nothing would get done. As it is, such submissions are dismissed without fair evaluation because it is reasonable to assume it is politically or superstitiously motivated.

        Really? Because I have seen such papers critiqued point-by-point. That’s the job of peer review, so someone is clearly doing it.

        there is no such lobby denying gravity. A paper denying the existence of gravity will get a fair read, even though its claim is so contrary to the status quo.

        If a paper denying the existence of gravity gets read, then anything will. Let’s stick with a real example to remove speculation: what about papers claiming a design of a perpetual motion machine? To what extent to peer reviewed journals bother reading those? Perhaps someone here knows how those are handled.

        • In reply to #3 by Jos Gibbons:

          If a paper denying the existence of gravity gets read, then anything will. Let’s stick with a real example to remove speculation:

          Google it. There are several published theories which deny the existence of gravity. That’s why I used it as an example.

          As the other two people in this thread have stated, this is part of the harm done by Wakefield (and Jenny McCarthy for that matter). Hell, Sokal might even contribute to an editor’s wariness, and he should. There is a point at which judgment calls are made, and non-scientific factors weigh in.

          I do agree, however, that my response misrepresents your initial post. The original article is itself non-scientific, and an appeal to unstated assumptions. It’s difficult to discuss your skepticism in a fair way.

          … to claim the reason anti-vaccine findings are slow to be published is because of Wakefield’s influence is very different from denying the immunity of which you speak.

          True. What I am sympathizing with is an unverified (perhaps unverifiable) paranoia about Wakefield’s impact. I totally admit it’s unfounded speculation. I could draw many logical problems with the article’s assertions, but I don’t think it rises to that level of critique. It lacks the substance.

    • In reply to #4 by thebaldgit:

      This was always going to be a side effect of Wakefield’s dispicable campaign.

      Indeed! This is just another example of why irresponsibility and incompetence in the medical community are so hurtful. They go way beyond the immediate obvious harm and have far-reaching repercussions months and years down the road. In some cases, almost impossible to quantify.

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