Just when you thought it was safe to return to the GP's surgery to get your children vaccinated, new research shows yet more possible links between the MMR triple vaccine and autistic bowel disorder. The research by Dr Stephen Walker of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina is being presented this week in Montreal, and states that 85% of children with autistic bowel disorders have been found to have measles virus in their gut, identical to the one used in the vaccine.
Now I'm only reporting what's appeared in the papers. I do not know any details of the research, but I am sure they will be debated in the media. There will be hysteria, and government denials, and another falling off in the rate of vaccination, leading to an increase in mumps, measles and rubella. I'm sure you know the script by now?
What concerns me, amongst other things, is the effect of government on scientific research, especially, the vilification of Dr Andrew Wakefield, the guy who initially made the link. Because his work was inconvenient to the authorities, he was stamped on. Again. And again.
That is not how science should proceed. If there is an anomaly, you go back to the laboratory. You rerun the experiment, you do the research again. You do everything in your power to find the cause of the anomaly, because only by searching do you learn. It may be an error, or it may be a breakthrough.
Children's lives depend on getting it right. The MMR vaccine is probably safe for most children, and will certainly protect them from misery, but if there are a handful of children who may be affected, we need to find out the pathophysiology, and how to screen them, so as to exclude them from the programme.
May I state here and now that I have not had the MMR vaccine. I was vaccinated against measles, back in the sixties, and had mumps and rubella as a child.
Having mumps wasn't so great, but I hardly noticed the rubella. If Mum hadn't seen the rash on my neck as I was leaving the house, I would have gone to school and infected my class. I got a week off school. Thanks Mum. Thanks Rubella.