The awful autism obsession of the antivaccinationist

On page 11 of the most recent Health Care Complaints Commission investigation into the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network, we see the absurdity of vaccines causing autism rearing its head.

The AVSN claim to present on their website 68 “medical journal studies [that] support the link between vaccination and autism”. According to the HCCC the expert they consulted concluded a case of correlation confused as causation was evident. A read of the list shows the expert is being kind in no small part. Given that the AVSN claim these studies show a link between vaccines and autism, the list is quite absurd.

Despite the absence of mercury in childhood vaccines we get much on environmental mercury and autism, ADHD and blood mercury levels, swollen brains and autism, etc. But we have a numeric problem Houston. Of the 68 (cough) articles, I could count just 30 that included the word “vaccine” or “vaccination” in the title, abstract or conclusion. But maybe I’m expecting too much. Articles are numbered but items 5, 12, 48, 49 and 68 don’t exist. At all.

The AVSN use the typical misinformation that succeeds at confusing young worried parents and educated, affluent parents who can afford lots of Internet time. Such as citing the damage huge doses of certain toxins or heavy metals can do, without stressing vaccines contain either another variant or minuscule amounts long shown to be perfectly safe. Since having changed their byline from Love them, Protect them, Never inject them to Because every issue has two sides, they have done a poor job of presenting both sides.

The AVSN for example do not provide access to the Institute Of Medicine publication, Adverse Effects Of Vaccines; Evidence and Causality. This has been pointed out by the HCCC along with a host of biased schemes the AVSN execute in the hope of driving the public away from vaccination. In addition the hubris-riddled response that has been crafted for the HCCC and published online, is indicative of a mindset with no concept of community responsibility.

Myths and concerns about vaccination note on page 29 under “Mercury in vaccines can cause autism”:

There is no evidence that thiomersal (a mercury based preservative) in vaccines has caused any health problems, except perhaps minor reactions such as redness at the injection site. […] The form of organic mercury contained within thiomersal is “ethyl mercury” which doesn’t accumulate in the body, unlike the closely related methyl mercury which does accumulate and is neurotoxic. […] MMR vaccine and other live attenuated viral vaccines never contained thiomersal.

Of course there is a dollar to be made insisting vaccines cause autism and other disabilities. As reported recently by Fairfax:

The Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing has confirmed it is investigating ”problems” in the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network’s financial statements.
The anti-vaccine group has raised nearly $2 million in the past seven years but has never done any ”charity”, according to Stop the AVN, a coalition of critics formed after the parents of a baby who died of whooping cough were targeted by the network. […]

The 2008 financial statement said the group had more than $50,500 of assets, yet in its 2009 statement, assets from 2008 are listed as only about half that amount.
And nearly two-thirds of $281,855 in expenses listed on its 2010 financial statements are not explained, given only the title ”other expenses”. The 2012 statement for the group has not been submitted.
A chartered accountant who examined the documents for Fairfax Media, but declined to be named for fear he would be harassed, said the documents were ”the worst set of financial statements I have ever seen”.

$2 million! And where is that money? Well, you see… no-one really knows. A visit to this document reveals a copious tally of financial irregularities and charitable breaches by the (then) AVN. Both the Charitable Fundraising and Charitable Trusts Acts are called into question, “on a number of occasions” according to the NSW state watchdog, the OLGR.

Published just recently at Diluted Thinking the article, AVSN Pays Meryl Dorey is a must read. It is a thorough breakdown of financial irregularities and unanswered questions from 2004 to 2008.

It is of course beyond ironic that a hero of the AVSN is disgraced “vaccine/autism” fraudster, Andrew Wakefield. It’s old news that Brian Deer was able to track Andrew Wakefield’s scam because the latter had left a trail of intriguing financial records and/or references.

Follow the money was what Deer did in true investigative journalistic style. It is indeed somewhat silly that the anti-vaccine lobby today bellow follow the money, but in doing so can draw only one step from a vaccine to its manufacturer. The money trail Deer uncovered was far more impressive.

Wakefield was paid £150 plus expenses per hour by Richard Barr’s law firm. In total this came to £435 643, which was arguably to create a syndrome to drive the class action of anti-vaccine and genuinely misled (by Wakefield) litigants.

But Wakefield needed to ensure he profited from all the sufferers of his syndrome. Once the world had been fooled into believing “autistic enterocolitis” was a genuine syndrome, then it would have to be diagnosed. First he filed for his March 1995 Diagnostic patent that claimed in part:

Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis may be diagnosed by detecting measles virus in bowel tissue, bowel products or body fluids

Based on this, on September 9th 1996 a client of Richard Barr known as Child 2 was the first child subject to what the GMC later described as a “clinically unwarranted” ileocolonoscopy.

The day after Child 2 had undergone his ileocolonoscopy Wakefield produced a document headed, Inventor/school/investor meeting 1. 4 which calculated that by working on MMR litigant samples, profits of £72.5m per year were to be had. This document left no doubt as to from where the money should be sourced. The profits would go to a yet to be formed company specialising in molecular viral diagnostic tests:

In view of the unique services offered by the Company and its technology, particularly for the molecular diagnostic, the assays can command premium prices. The ability of the Company to commercialise its candidate products depends upon the extent to which reimbursement for the cost of such products will be available from government health administration authorities, private health providers and, in the context of the molecular diagnostic, the Legal Aid Board.

More could be gleaned from a confidential submission (1999) to the Legal Aid board in his quest to secure the future of an immunodiagnostic business he would be director of. Unigenetics Ltd was incorporated in February of that year with Dublin pathologist, John O’Leary and would be registered in the Republic of Ireland. Here Wakefield argued the link b/w MMR and autism had been shown. Unigenetics scored £800 000 of tax payer funds to conduct PCR tests of dubious pursuit.

In addition to these petty “legal costs and salary” monies Wakefield would get another £90 000 per year – more than half of which was for travel. Deer reported that trading was to be fronted by another planned immunodiagnostic company Carmel Healthcare Ltd (also registered in the Irish Republic) and named after Wakefield’s wife. Within this venture Wakefield would take 37% of the earnings, the parent of child “Number 10″ would take 22.2%. A venture capitalist would get 18%. Royal Free’s professor of gastroenterology, Roy Pounder would get 11.7% and Professor John O’Leary another champion of “MMR causes autism” would get 11.1%.

Deer was given a copy of a prospectus 35 pages long.

This included confirmation of planned “litigation driven testing” from the USA and UK, along with delightful profit. Of course all business relied upon Wakefield’s new syndrome which at this point remained to be proven. As he had not found Crohn’s disease in the 12 children, Wakefield coined the term “autistic enterocolitis”. The prospectus sought to raise an investment of £700 000.

It is estimated that the initial market for the diagnostic will be litigation driven testing of patients with autistic enterocolitis from both the UK and the USA… It is estimated that by year 3, income from this testing could be about £3 300 000 rising to about £28 000 000 as diagnostic testing in support of therapeutic regimes come on stream.

[…]

Once the work of Professor O’Leary and Dr Wakefield is published, either late in 1999 or early in 2000, which will provide unequivocal evidence for the presence of the vaccine derived measles virus in biopsy samples the public and political pressure for a thorough, wide ranging investigation into the aetiology of the bowel conditions will be overwhelming.

As a consequence of the public, political and legal pressures brought to bear, the demand for a diagnostic able to discriminate between wild type and vaccine derived measles strains will be enormous.

Deer reported on yet another new company which was for the running of a joint business with the UCL medical school. Immunospecifics Biotechnologies Ltd would produce immunotherapeutics, vaccines and a diagnostic test. Beneficiaries were as with Carmel. Wakefield, the parent of “number 10″, the venture capatilist, Pounder and Prof. John O’Leary.

There are issues around Wakefield’s immunodiagnostics which antivaccinationists should simply admit, and by not admitting such merely lend their cause less credence (if that were possible).

  • Transfer factor for use in vaccines and treatments had basically been written out of the literature. A lack of evidence, risk of infection and unjustified cost had relegated this 1940’s blood product to the realm of an Internet peddled cure-all scam.
  • The Neuro Immuno Therapeutics drama run by Hugh Fudenberg. To cure autism – which he reckons is caused by MMR – Hugh would use, you guessed it, Transfer factor. In August 2004 Brian Deer caught up with him. At the time he was under sanction for use and prescription of controlled drugs. Help yourself to a search-and-read on Hugh. If you remember Bill Maher’s claim that a flu shot five years consecutively equals a ten-fold increase in the chances of developing Alzheimers, you might be relieved to know that the source is Hugh Fudenberg.
  • The Dublin measles tests which could not deliver consistency of results, emerged as a problem years later, during vaccine related lawsuits in the USA and Britain.

One caper of Wakefields that many know of is his “safer vaccine” patent for a monovalent measles vaccine. As the Royal Free Hospital approached the release of his paper Wakefield made copies on tape as to how he should announce his bogus findings. One – which is in circulation today – includes:

There is sufficient anxiety in my own mind for the long term safety of the polyvalent vaccine—that is, the MMR vaccination in combination—that I think it should be suspended in favour of the single vaccines

But of course! Just as well that like the patent for immunodiagnostics he had the “safer vaccine” patent for the single measles vaccine. And he filed for this nine months before his now retracted paper was published.

Wakefield patent

The opening paragraph is breathtaking:

The present invention relates to a new vaccine for the elimination of MMR and measles virus and to a pharmaceutical or therapeutic composition for the treatment of IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease); particularly Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis and Regressive Behavioural Disease (RBD).

After falsely claiming MMR vaccination leads to Crohn’s disease and other forms of IBD we read on page two (far right) above (bold mine):

What is needed therefore is a safer vaccine which does not give rise to these problems and a treatment for those with existing IBD. I have now discovered a combined vaccine/therapeutic agent which is not only most probably safer to administer to neonates and others by way of vaccination, but which also can be used to treat IBD whether as a complete cure or to alleviate symptoms.

This was first revealed in the UK Sunday Times. Wakefield denied this “conspiracy”:

The claim appears to be that, whilst at the Royal Free Hospital, I was developing a new vaccine to compete with MMR and that I conspired to undermine confidence in MMR vaccine in order to promote this new vaccine, and that this represented a conflict of interest. This is untrue. The facts are that: […]

it has never been my aim or intention to design, produce or promote a vaccine to compete with MMR; […]

A provisional patent filing was made for the use of measles virus-specific TF in regressive autism and inflammatory bowel disease (Regressive Bowel Disease; RBD).

The reference to the possible use of TF to protect children against measles infection – the thrust of the Sunday Times’ conspiracy theory – was put in as an afterthought in the patent. It was entirely speculative and never pursued in any shape, manner or form.

The provisional patent filing was entirely speculative and was for a possible therapy; as such, it had no bearing on the 1998 Lancet paper.

That the patent application with its firm conclusion of an MMR derived pathology appeared nine months before publication of his paper is not the only Crystal Ball caper by Wakefield. A fortnight before selecting any children that eventually made up his insignificant 12 child sample, Wakefield and Richard Barr co-authored a letter that included (bold mine):

Children with enteritis and disintegrative disorder, form part of a new syndrome. The evidence is undeniably in favour of a specific vaccine induced pathology

That claim would have taken the word of Hugh Fudenberg at that particular time in history.

The end for Wakefield came just after plans for Carmel Healthcare were finalised, potentially making way for his incredibly profitable business. A new head of medicine, Mark Pepys was appointed to the UCL Medical School (once known as the Royal Free and University College Medical School). He is a fellow of the Royal Society and ensured impressive grant money. He wasn’t impressed by Wakefield, threatening to not transfer his own unit to UCL if Wakefield was even there.

With the help of theoretical physicist Chris Llewellyn-Smith he made his move in December 1999. A mere two months after Pepys moved to the Royal Free Wakefield was called to UCL’s London head offices. There, at last, he was made to face the audacity of his scam and handed a two page letter of his very own to have and to hold and of course, to read. It included:

We remain concerned about a possible serious conflict of interest between your academic employment by UCL, and your involvement with Carmel. This concern arose originally because the company’s business plan appears to depend on premature, scientifically unjustified publication of results, which do not conform to the rigorous academic and scientific standards that are generally expected. […]

Good scientific practice now demands that you and others seek to confirm or refute robustly, reliably, and above all reproducibly, the possible causal relationships between MMR vaccination and autism/“autistic enterocolitis”/inflammatory bowel disease that you have postulated.

Yay verily.

UCL were keen to help, offering him an ongoing position on staff or a full twelve months paid absence to allow for further research. 150 subjects would be provided to Wakefield. 12.5 times larger than his initial sample. Wakefield agreed.

Time passed.

After three months he was asked for a progress report. Six months later in September 2000 Wakefield replied:

It is clear that academic freedom is essential, and cannot be traded. It is the unanimous decision of my collaborators and co-workers that it is only appropriate that we define our research objectives, we enact the studies as appropriately reviewed and approved, and we decide as and when we deem the work suitable for submission for peer review.

Fail. By October of 2001 he was asked not to let the door hit his lying backside on the way out. In January of 2010 the General Medical Council found Wakefield had been “dishonest, irresponsibile and showed callous disregard for the distress and pain of children.”  [Science Based Medicine]

After close to a decade of multiple studies had failed to replicate his “findings” or any link between MMR, its components and autism the Lancet retracted the Wakefield paper [Science Based Medicine] [BMJ] on February 2nd 2010. The journal’s editor, Richard Horton described the statements in the “fatally flawed” paper as “utterly false”.

On May 25th of that year he was struck off the medical registrar by the General Medical Council.

Still today, as is clear above, there are scam artists profitting from peddling the lie that vaccines cause autism. Their paper-thin efforts may well be pathetic but still have a measurably negative effect on public health. With no regard for evidence or responsibility for the consequences of their actions, one can hope that these arrogant fraudsters will one day too face the weight of the law.

Yay verily.

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About @advodiaboli
I'm not really a cast iron flying pig.

One Response to The awful autism obsession of the antivaccinationist

  1. Sue says:

    Thanks for this.

    And despite the fact that Wakefield is now a darling of the anti-vaxers, it is clear that he was at that time – other than commenting on a potential issue with measles and MMR – pro-vaccine.

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