Yesterday, fears over MMR vaccine were continuing to fade, vaccination rates were creeping up, and stories about MMR vaccine causing autism were fairly rare.
Today we have two major national newspapers running stories suggesting new fears of MMR causing autism.
Has the evidence changed since yesterday? No.
What are the grounds for this new scare story then?
Well, it appears a research group has performed a study looking into the prevalence of autism. The study doesn’t appear to provide any evidence for or against a possible link with MMR vaccine. It hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. The team leader of the research states that “As for MMR, at this point one can conclude that evidence does not support the idea that the MMR causes autism.”.
Yet, The Telegraph states “Fresh fears over a possible link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism have been raised”. The Observer states “Questions over triple jab for children”. Yet there is no new evidence that justifies either of these statements.
The only suggestion of a new scare about MMR is that “Dr Fiona Scott and Dr Carol Stott have reportedly said they think the jab, given to children between 12 and 15 months, could be responsible for growing numbers of children apparently exhibiting symptoms of the disorder.” Neither of them have presented evidence for this. According to Brian Deer’s webpage Carol Stott and Fiona Scott are/were business partners in “The Cambridge Psychometrics and Autism Practice”. As Deer stated:
I have taken the trouble to inspect the website of your business, “The Cambridge Psychometrics and Autism Practice”, and from this deduce that you have been on the payroll of the failed MMR litigation.
Stott is also involved with Thoughtful House, an organisation that Wakefield is now involved with.
While none of the above may have influenced the airings of these “concerns” about MMR vaccine, some may consider the appearance of this story before the General Medical Council hearings with Wakefield over alleged misconduct to be more than a mere coincidence.
Over the years, I have come across people who have suggested the government could have handled the MMR debate better, and no doubt lessons have been learnt about communicating issues of public safety on vaccines. However, the fact that The Observer can create a front page headline about MMR vaccine safety out of virtually nothing, shows that we continue to have a media that is utterly irresponsible, or amazingly credulous, when it comes to serious public health issues.
All the scientific evidence collected over the years about MMR vaccine is utterly meaningless if the public interface with science is conducted on such a basis. These are two of the more well-respected papers in the UK. Just wait until the Daily Mail and Daily Express get hold of this.
UPDATE: See Kevin Leitch’s post.
Further Update: Ben Goldacre has more, as well as multiple links to various criticisms of The Observer piece.