Establishment betrayed its agenda with MMR vaccine

LAST week's condemnation of Dr Andrew Wakefield, the physician whose research suggested a link between the MMR vaccine and autism in children, by the General Medical Council was the climax of 12 years of medical controversy. A GMC panel that investigated his case denounced Wakefield as having brought the medical profession "into disrepute".

In fact, the controversy over MMR was about a lot more than Andrew Wakefield, the triple vaccine or autism. It was a battle in a wider war; and when it is put in the context of that broader conflict it assumes a larger significance. The original paper, published in 1998 by 13 doctors in the Lancet, did not claim in downright terms a link between MMR and autism. Nor were Wakefield and his associates entirely alone in their unease: an EU-funded meta review conducted in 2004 concluded that a connection between MMR and autism was "unlikely", but conceded: "The design and reporting of safety outcomes in MMR vaccine studies… are largely inadequate."

Despite establishment bluster, there was no certainty that the alarm was unfounded. A decade earlier, in 1988, despite American and Canadian concern that a form of MMR vaccine containing the Urabe mumps strain caused meningitis, the NHS introduced mass vaccinations. Only in the early 1990s, when these fears were realised, did it discontinue the vaccine and replace it with one containing the Jeryl Lynn mumps strain instead.

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There was understandable alarm among parents after the publication of the Lancet paper. That is when the reaction kicked in from the establishment. The increasingly totalitarian mentality of the politico-medical consensus has seldom been better demonstrated. A de haute en bas attitude of patronising and bullying parents into conforming to the statist prescription of a triple vaccine was the knee-jerk response of people who would not brook contradiction. The obvious response should have been to offer separate vaccines on the NHS for a limited period, while further investigations were carried out into MMR.

That would have cost money; but when was the NHS reticent about spending taxpayers' cash – on pen-pushers and fallible IT systems, if not on clinical priorities? For middle-class parents the option was available of resorting to private clinics where single vaccinations were available, at costs approximately ranging from 250 to 380 for the first course, administered at 13 months. For less well-off families – the sector of society that the NHS was designed to help – they were prohibitively expensive.

That is where the establishment betrayed its agenda. It was determined to enforce its will on its client state – the vast dependency culture that Labour has retained in helotry through tax credits, a runaway welfare system and a culture of womb-to-tomb governmental control. MMR was a virility symbol. The State said: "We will pump what we like into your children and you will thank us for it." When parents said: "Thanks, but no thanks", the statist consensus turned nasty. The climactic example came eight months ago when Sir Sandy Macara, former chairman of the British Medical Association, put down a motion at the BMA's 2009 conference that MMR vaccination should be compulsory for all children attending state schools. Note the precision targeting: independent school pupils, whose parents could afford single vaccinations in any case, would not have been affected.

Macara admitted: "Our attempts to persuade people have failed." Yes; and why did they fail? Because the whole politico-scientific consensus – as exemplified in the man-made global warming scam – no longer commands public confidence.

If the precautionary principle justifies the West spending $50 trillion to counter climate change, why did it not justify spending a few million pounds to provide single vaccines on the NHS? It was the precautionary principle that induced the government to spend a sum that will finally exceed 1 billion on swine flu precautions, including 155m on vaccine, of which it now holds 60 million surplus doses. Read carefully, I will write this only once: the government should not be condemned. In an uncertain situation involving matters of life and death it took a responsible decision to protect its citizens. Any lesser response would not have been tolerated.

If it had brought the same sense of responsibility to the MMR scare and provided single vaccinations, the problem would have been resolved. Measles cases have increased, though not to so disastrous an extent as doom-mongers would have us believe. The blame does not attach to Andrew Wakefield, but to a stubborn and arrogant state nomenklatura that refused to respond to public concern.

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