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News2007May › MMR and Autism: Conflicts of interest muddy the waters › May 2007

MMR and Autism: Conflicts of interest muddy the waters

Conflict of interest can be a tricky area

Conflict of interest can be a tricky area.

It's an accusation that's been thrown at paediatrician Andrew Wakefield, who first raised the flag about a possible link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism back in 1998.

It came about when Sunday Times journalist Brian Deer claimed that Dr Wakefield failed to disclose payments made by lawyers to Dr Wakefield's hospital, the Royal Free, when he was retained as an expert witness for the legal claims brought by thousands of parents whose children had been damaged by the vaccine.
As a result, the General Medical Council, which governs the behaviour of doctors in the UK, has been investigating Deer's claims.

As it is, it is due to begin deliberations about Dr Wakefield's research and findings in a hearing that begins on July 11, and which is set to last 14 weeks. Normal GMC hearings last for one or two days.

Unfortunately, this long-awaited hearing has been thrown into disarray. Secret government papers that have been leaked reveal that the hearing's chairman, Prof Dennis McDevitt, was part of a panel that, in 1988, judged the MMR vaccine to be safe. It was withdrawn four years later after thousands of children suffered adverse reactions.

Then there was the mysterious withdrawal of legal aid for the thousands of parents who were fighting for compensation after their children suffered serious, and sometimes permanent, damage after having the vaccine. Their claim was against the vaccine's manufacturer, Smith Kline & French Laboratories.
Their appeal against the withdrawal of legal aid was dismissed in a secret session with High Court judge Sir Nigel Davis.

Unfortunately, Sir Nigel forgot to mention that his brother, Sir Crispin, was a main board director of the vaccine's manufacturer. As we say, conflict of interest can be tricky.

E-news broadcast 31 May 2007 No.364

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