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A defector in the ranks

MagazineNovember 1999 (Vol. 10 Issue 8)A defector in the ranks

Finally, in the vaccine debate, the British government has been blatantly caught with its trousers down

Finally, in the vaccine debate, the British government has been blatantly caught with its trousers down.

After many months of attempting to discredit the work of Andrew Wakefield and co of the Royal Free Hospital in London, the people who have steadfastly maintained that there may be a link between the triple measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) jab and autism, the government has suffered a defector among its ranks.

Dr Ken Aitkin, an authority on autism, commissioned by the government to allay fears about the link between the condition and the vaccine, has blown the whistle on the government's damage limitation exercise.

Dr Aitkin formed part of a 37 person strong Medical Research Council panel to study evidence between the triple jab and autism. Last spring, the findings of the panel were cited by then chief medical officer Kenneth Calman as a reason to definitively rule out any link.

Recently, however, Dr Aitkin admitted that the Department of Health did not accurately put forward the conclusion reached by the MRC. "We did not conclude that autism was not linked to MMR," he said recently. "The view was that there was a problem which needed to be looked at very carefully and there was not enough evidence to rule out a link."

Even worse, as far as government is concerned, Dr Aitkin is now sleeping with the enemy. He agreed to act as an expert witness on behalf of the 100 parents of autistic children seeking compensation from three manufacturers of the MMR vaccine for allegedly damaging their children. The case came to trial a month ago.

Dr Aitkin's apparent defection is all the more interesting considering that he was part of a panel that was handpicked by the government. General members of the public concerned about vaccine safety were not allowed to nominate their own members.

Despite assembling a large panel of independent experts, the government and the Public Health Laboratory put their own spin on the results of an independent committee to back up their desired conclusion.

And now the government's latest move is to ban single vaccines, with the spurious argument that the vaccines on their own are dangerous.

One has to compare this finger in the dyke approach with America, which is also in the midst of national debate about the safety of the MMR vaccine. When alarm bells have been sounded by the public, at least those in charge are willing to listen. No less than Walter Orenstein, director of national immunisation programme of the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention in the US, has indicated that although he is cannot uncategorically accept the autism link, yet he is not outright dismissive. Marie Bristol-Power, coordinator of The Network on Neurobiology and Genetics of Autism, of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development within the National Institutes of Health, again supports further research. Congressional hearings have recently been held.

There is much we don't know about the MMR vaccine. We don't, for instance, know, whether the single jabs are any safer than the triple one. That is only a theory which needs to be tested further, as does the supposed autism link, by being subjected to further scientific trials. But you'd never know we don't know. Every day I read more information about this vaccine which is blatantly untrue but written with absolutely certainty.

And we're not ever going to know if the people responsible for vaccination refuse to find out.

!ALynne McTaggart


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