It’s been hard to miss the recent news reports about measles outbreaks around the United States. Frequently the statistics are followed in the next breath by complaints that the outbreak is due to anti-vaccine advocates. These advocates, we are often told, were inspired by Andrew Wakefield, the “discredited MMR vaccine doctor.”
I feel compelled to share what Dr. Wakefield told me during an interview in the fall of 2001. That interview was published at the time by our nonprofit organization, Association for Comprehensive NeuroTherapy, and is now published once more below in its entirety, without editing.
I’m neither a researcher nor scientist. I know there are controversies about Dr. Wakefield’s most quoted study in 1998. Newsweek carried an article this week (February 10, 2015) debunking his work and calling him the father of the anti-vaccine movement. See here. But based on his comments in the interview below, my guess is Wakefield would say that the large scale studies lauded in the Newsweek article did not test his actual hypothesis.
The reader should note that Andrew Wakefield warned against stopping vaccines for measles.
How I landed my interview with Andrew Wakefield
In 2001 I was a practicing school psychologist and volunteer director of a nonprofit organization sharing natural approaches to neurological conditions. I heard Dr. Wakefield from England was a key speaker at an autism conference I planned to attend in south Florida. I had no idea he would become such a lightning rod. I simply requested an interview through the organizer.
Yes, I was told, he was short on time but willing. We set a meeting time and I waited with my questions and tape recorder in my hotel room at the conference center. Dr. Wakefield arrived on schedule, apologizing that he was coming straight from a workout in the gym because his agenda was so tight. He didn’t want to miss the sunshine, so we sat outside on my room’s tiny balcony and got down to business.
I later transcribed the interview and returned a transcript of it to him for an accuracy check. What is given below includes any edits and was directly approved by him at the time. Since then, Dr. Wakefield has no doubt fine-tuned his message. But this is what he said. I found him compelling then, and still do.
I should point out that I have not had any contact with Dr. Wakefield in the past 11 years and have no personal or financial connection with him.
An Interview with Andrew Wakefield, MD
Autism and the MMR Vaccine
The 2001 article introduction:
This interview took place in the fall of 2001, shortly before Dr. Andrew Wakefield left his position as a Reader (professor) in Experimental Gastroenterology at the Royal Free Hospital, London, where he was Director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disorder Group. He resigned amid controversy over the findings of his research team—findings that caused him to question the safety of the combined measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
At the hospital, Wakefield led a collaborative team of medical and scientific researchers investigating a meta-hypothesis that a complex relationship between a genetic predisposition and early environmental exposures, in particular the MMR immunization, results in immune derangement and metabolic dysfunction, bowel disease, and regression to autism.
Major scientific achievements of the group during the last decade included: an original description of the vascular pathogenesis of Crohn’s disease; an original description of thrombotic mechanisms in inflammatory bowel disease; the discovery of measles virus in inflammatory bowel disease, an original description of the atypical patterns of exposure to measles virus that are a risk for inflammatory bowel disease; setting up the United Kingdom’s national Register of Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease; an original description of a vascular pathogenesis of enteropathy induced by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; an original description of intestinal pathology in children with developmental disorder; “autistic enterocolitis”; development of novel in-cell gene amplification technologies for virus detection in diseased tissues; and discovery of measles virus in intestinal tissues from children with autistic enterocolitis.
Highly respected throughout his career, Andrew Wakefield is presently scorned by public health officials, criticized by peers, and gratefully admired by thousands of parents of autistic children. He presumably enjoys academic and moral support from a modest number of researchers around the world whose work collaborates his findings—a small refuge in the face of the huge political storm that is brewing.
Dr. Wakefield, 45 lives outside London with his wife and four “wonderful, healthy” children. His parents, both physicians, did not encourage his entry into the medical field. Says Wakefield, “They told me, ‘You’ve seen what it’s like – forget it!’ But you don’t listen to your parents. Sometimes you wish you had.” Present plans include moving with his family to the United States where he intends to continue his research. The interview took place in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where Dr. Wakefield was presenting at a conference sponsored by Casi’s Quest/Autism Autoimmunity Project.
“The patient will give you the answers if you listen to them. That’s the most important thing for a physician to remember. If you forget that, you should turn around and go into something else—become a pathologist.” —Andrew Wakefield
Interview by Sheila Rogers, MS, editor of Latitudes:
Dr. Wakefield, could you explain how your work evolved into your present controversial focus on autism and measles?
I trained as a surgeon, and my particular interests were inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis—two diseases of the late twentieth century. Those diseases were very rare thirty to forty years ago; I believe the lifetime risk of Crohn’s or colitis is now approaching one in fifty. They came out of nowhere, and are now even hitting children. For some time I was looking at small bowel transplantation for people who no longer had sufficient small bowel function to stay alive without intravenous feeding. It turned out to be a waste of time in many ways. It was going to be useful for only a few people, and it was treating the end point of the condition, without understanding the origins of the disease. But we did make some observations that led us to the idea that Crohn’s disease might be an infection of the blood vessels in the intestine rather than a disease coming from the lumen of the intestine. The lumen was full of bacteria and therefore the assumption that this was the origin of the disease was a reasonable idea, but it didn’t explain the disease process. When we started looking at Crohn’s as a possible infection of the blood vessels, we put the measles virus at the top of the list, because it’s a virus that gets into blood vessels and causes blood vessel damage in the intestine.
So, we looked into this and we found that measles was associated with Crohn’s, and that was very exciting. Then we asked the question: “Well, if it’s measles that’s related to the cause of this disease, why are we suddenly seeing the appearance of this disease in children who have only been exposed to the measles vaccine? Is the measles vaccine in some form or another related to this disease?” Studies to answer those questions are ongoing, in addition to recent studies in Canada that confirm our observation that measles is present in these children with inflammatory bowel disease.
This announcement didn’t make us very popular. Here we were raising what we considered to be reasonable questions—but the public health community was enormously upset, because we were suggesting that something that they set out to do for the good of children might be having an adverse effect. However, we are accountable to the patients and not the public health officials. So we pursued it.
When did the autistic connection come in?
In 1996, I started getting calls from parents who had heard about my work. They all told a similar story: that their child was developing normally, had met the milestones for speech and language, had good eye contact, was playing with siblings, and was healthy. Then he or she received the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and within a matter of days to months they lost skills—they just disappeared. They no longer used words that they’d had mastery of. They initially lost the consonants, and then the whole word would disappear. They stopped making eye contact, lost interest in play, and started exhibiting fastidious eating habits—they would eat only certain things and wouldn’t touch other foods. Then they descended into autism; eventually the child received a diagnosis of autism or atypical autism.
I told the parents that I knew nothing about autism, and I asked how I could help. They explained that the children also had gastrointestinal symptoms that they believed were related to the aberrant behavior. These bowel symptoms started around the same time as the behavioral decline—and following the MMR vaccination. They had observed that when the bowel symptoms were bad, the behavior was particularly bad. When the bowel symptoms were improved, then behavior was better. And most parents told me that they were sure their child was in pain, that the self-injurious behaviors—the head banging, biting themselves—were related to this pain.
When they asked their physician about the intestinal symptoms, they were usually told, “Your child is autistic. He is bound to have bowel problems.” That, of course, didn’t make much sense. After hearing the same story repeated on several occasions, we decided it was our duty to establish whether the parents were right. Was there an underlying bowel disease in these children? We also set out to investigate whether there was a relationship between possible bowel disease, the measles virus vaccine, and autism.
So, my colleagues in pediatric gastroenterology at the Royal Free Hospital started performing illeocolonoscopy on children with autism. This is a technique where you examine the lower bowel with a flexible telescope, take some pieces of tissue away, and look at them under the microscope. In the first four or five children there was clear indication of inflammatory bowel disease. We went on to see more cases—we have examined over 200 children—and there is bowel disease in many of them. It’s subtle; it is not as severe as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, but nonetheless it is a definite disease process. We published several papers on this.
I recall reading strong reactions to your first report on the possible link of the MMR vaccine and autism.
Initially we published in the Lancet on the first twelve cases. People were very critical of us for publishing on 12 children and suggesting a link with the MMR vaccine. But you have to understand the history of medicine and the description of disease syndromes—whether it is thyroid disease, adrenal disease, or neurological disease—it is usually first seen and defined in a handful of patients, normally no more than 20 patients. These patients present with a unique pattern of signs, symptoms, and pathology that are so consistent, so striking in their own right that the syndrome deserves publication. You can’t easily identify controls at this point, since you do not even know exactly what you are dealing with. But what you are saying is that these are so striking and novel that they merit publication. And that’s what we did. We did what every other person who has described a medical syndrome in the history of medicine did. Take Crohn’s disease, for example. Dr. Crohn first described the Crohn’s disease based on no more than 13 or 14 patients. History has extended Crohn’s original observations, but his description stands as the benchmark for the condition that we recognize today.
After our initial report, which met with a lot of criticism, we went on to look at 60 more children. At this point we did a controlled study and compared the intestinal diseases in autistic syndrome with ulcerative colitis and normal control children. The bowel inflammation was clearly different, quite distinct—it had neither the appearance of Crohn’s nor colitis. Another feature was the swelling of the lymph glands in the intestine, which is something you see with infection in children and adults which may be associated with immunodeficiency or immune problems in the intestine. The glands swell and they encroach into the lumen of the intestine, causing pain and change in bowel habit—they cause suffering. This is a potential site of infection, so if we were looking for an infection such as measles, then this is where we would look. We know that measles can produce this lesion, the swelling of the lymph nodes, in the intestine. In association with swollen lymph glands, we found inflammation of the lining of the bowel. This inflammation is consistent with an autoimmune disease, and we now have evidence for that. Researchers like Dr. Vijendra Singh have reported on autism and autoimmunity for the past several years, and consistent with his own findings, there was clear evidence of this in the intestine. We then published a study in the Journal of Pediatrics, and we have further studies of the small intestinal lesions confirming beyond doubt that there is an intestinal disease in these children with autism.
What are the implications of your findings?
It means that for this group of children with autism, the parents were absolutely right and the medical profession was almost completely wrong. They had ignored the clinical history and sent these children away; they had assumed that because the children had autism they couldn’t possibly suffer from any other problem, and if they did it was just part of the nature of autism. It was medicine gone wrong. Now for the first time we have some insight into how the bowel might be influencing the brain, and how we might modify the disease in the intestine to help these children. Hopefully those types of studies will continue.
Our research team recognized that there was an autoimmune process and that the children were immuno-deficient, their immune systems weren’t working properly. As a result they would get infections that they couldn’t shake it off. They often had multiple courses of antibiotics, ear infections, upper respiratory tract infections, and a disease in the intestine that looked like it was of viral origin. So we looked for evidence of measles and other viruses, comparing them with control children, and lo and behold, we discovered the measles virus using several different techniques.
So normally when one has received a vaccine, no trace of that vaccine should remain in the body?
The teaching by the public health community and the vaccinologists is that there is no evidence for persistence of the vaccine strain of measles virus. That’s the teaching, that’s been the dogma so far. The only circumstance in which evidence of the vaccine has been found is when children suffered adverse reactions to the vaccine—encephalitis, for example. So it has only been found in pathological circumstances. We now present the data saying we find this virus in children with autism and they respond, “Well, that doesn’t surprise me—maybe the vaccine strain persists in everybody!” So the previous teaching as it was, is suddenly thrown out the window and we have a new dogma. This does not represent an intelligent thought process, and I don’t buy into that kind of thing. And certainly we do not find evidence of the measles virus in most control children—we find it in only a small minority of non-autistic children. But we find it in the great majority of children with autism, and there’s a highly statistically significant difference between these two.
Are many others doing work that is supportive of your findings?
As mentioned, Dr. Vijendra Singh has shown that there is an abnormal antibody response to the measles virus in certain children with autism, and that finding is consistent with ours. Dr. James Olesky in New Jersey has reported that children with autism have higher titers of measles antibodies in their blood compared with controls. That would be consistent with a persistent infection being associated with some disease process. There are a number of respectable groups around the world who are now entertaining and investigating this hypothesis. And on the balance of evidence, I think the parents are right—I think that there is a causal relation between the MMR vaccine and regressive autism in some of these children. I’m sad to report this.
I understand that the Institute of Medicine held a committee session to look into the possible role of vaccines and autism, and that the report—which indicated no link between the two—may have been misleading to the public. Could you comment on that?
The Institute of Medicine (IOM), a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, is interesting. It’s supposed to be an independent group, but I suppose it’s typical of the way in which conflicts of interest are represented—or misrepresented, in this case. I believe the IOM meeting you refer to was called at the urging of Representative Dan Burton’s Oversight Committee. They asked for a truly independent investigation to look at the data related to vaccines and autism; independent in the sense that the members of the committee of the IOM who were to submit the final report had no financial ties with the vaccine manufacturers. This was a laudable goal. Congressman Burton, whose grandson developed autism after an MMR vaccine dose, has done a tremendous job in moving this topic forward.
I agreed to testify before the IOM committee on the basis that there was no conflict of interest. We hoped that the playing field would be relatively level, which it has not been in the past. The premise of the meeting was that it was open to the press. This immediately precludes you from presenting data which are undergoing peer review and being readied for publication because if the information comes out in the media, it compromises the chance of that ever getting published. So the first mistake they made was to allow the press in, because then all a researcher can do is give an overview rather than share the raw data. I made that point at the meeting, and I presented information along with several others. When I began to explain some of our most recent data to the IOM committee, they became anxious and agitated. They then asked for the data to be provided to their closed session the following day, to which the press and public were not invited. Those data were provided. Yet they didn’t mention the relevant parts of any of my testimony or data in the final report.
I later learned that prior to IOM publishing their report of this meeting, they sent it to senior members of the vaccine community—vaccinologists and public health officials. I found this slightly alarming. Dan Burton had asked for an entirely independent review, yet the report was sent to the committee members who are responsible for approving vaccines, to be sanitized and edited. It was also sent to some of the presenters. One presenter who is well known for his opinions in this field and has publicly stated that there is no link between MMR and autism shared unpublished data at that meeting and his work was given a page and a half in the report. The data I presented was not even mentioned. Why was it sent to other presenters and not me? I can only speculate.
And what is your speculation? What data did you share at that meeting?
At that closed session, I presented data on children who’d had not one measles-containing vaccine, but two, and who had suffered regression after both episodes. Now, this is called challenge-rechallenge, and it is an extremely important factor. If you take a drug and you develop a rash, that can be a coincidence. But if you take the drug a second time and you develop the rash again, that’s not coincidence. Sherlock Holmes said, “Once coincidence; twice never.” I presented data on 11 children who’d had two doses of MMR, and the majority exhibited regression after both doses. For some, the symptoms suddenly occurred after the second dose, when they were five and six years old. This is long after the so-called “coincidence” of children becoming autistic after an MMR dose in the second year of life.
So you’re saying some of these children had a minor setback the first time they had the MMR, and a more severe setback with the second dose?
That’s right. Some became clearly autistic after the first dose, while some just lost skills and were diagnosed as being on the autistic continuum. Then, after the second episode, they had catastrophic regression. This is typical of an immunological phenomenon. If you are hit with something to which you develop an aberrant immune response, with the first occasion it may take a while for symptoms to surface and they may be relatively mild. With the second exposure, it’s usually much quicker and much more severe.
What did you do when you learned that any reference to this information had been omitted from the report?
I raised this issue at the second congressional hearing on autism and vaccines in front of Marie McCormack, Chair of the Institute of Medicine’s Immunization Safety Review Committee. Representative Dan Burton told Dr. McCormack that they needed the transcript from that closed session. She explained that it was not their policy to release transcripts. He said in his own idiosyncratic style that they would then be subpoenaed, though he put it more forcefully than that. So, they were subpoenaed and the tapes were sent. They just happened to be blank. These were copies of the original tapes, so Representative Burton said, “Okay, then in that case we will have the original tapes.” So they requested the original tapes—and they were blank as well. Then you really start to wonder. We can send someone into outer space, but we can’t manage to audiotape a meeting on vaccine safety?
This is incredible–and very distressing.
It’s quite extraordinary. The point is that this information is being dealt with by the medical and public health community in a manner that is designed to protect the infrastructure, protect the status quo, protect the individuals within that, and it’s not being conducted in a way that is designed to protect the children. They should be putting the children first, and making sure that the vaccine policies that we have in the United Kingdom and the United States are the safest ones possible. This issue must be exposed and set right.
It seems other researchers and the media often point out that no one has duplicated your findings.
OK, let’s take that in two separate parts. The first is the gastrointestinal condition. Have people investigated the bowel symptoms of children with autism and found disease in the intestine? Yes. Dr. Karoly Horvath from the University of Maryland, among others, has done this. And children in Sweden have also been investigated, and this disease has been found. So on the bowel side of things, yes, they have. Has anyone done any virology on these children besides my group? No, they haven’t. So you get this blanket statement, “No one has been able to reproduce these findings.” But no one has tried! It’s a meaningless statement, but it’s used in this generic manner by the public health officials: “There’s no evidence; it hasn’t been reproduced”—without qualifying that no one has tried it.
As I mentioned, others have looked at the virological aspects and they have found an aberrant immune response. Our group is the only one at the moment that has conducted the molecular detection of the measles virus.
Why do you think there is such obvious resistance to examining this issue?
I think those resisting are terrified. And the tragedy is that the medical profession and the scientists have not only failed to address the issue, they have failed to even want to address the issue. These children with autism are the new dispossessed; they have been completely put aside by medicine. When you make a mistake in medicine, there is an inherent tendency to ignore it, to turn your back on it. And I’m afraid that’s what we are seeing here. We say autistic children have aberrant behavior, but this situation is actually aberrant behavior by the medical profession toward the children.
The effect this will have is that the issue will be forced into the courts and it will be resolved, not by the medical profession, but in the court of law. That’s a tragedy. And it’s happening because we have failed to address the issue. History will record these events and the question will be asked, “Why didn’t the medical community research this when they were asked to?” I’m afraid there is an abject failure on the part of the medical profession to even want to address this problem because the challenges are actually what they perceive to be some of their greatest achievements.
I’m wondering how far-reaching the implications are. I think it’s interesting that Dr. Angela Sabra, at Georgetown University, has reported similar gastrointestinal findings for some ADHD cases. Do you think there is an overlap with other conditions—that the vaccine issue is larger than autism?
Let me answer that by analogy to other medical conditions. In medicine, what we initially see clinically is the tip of the iceberg. You can take celiac disease as an example. It’s an allergic sensitivity to the gluten fraction of wheat, and this has some commonalities in what we see in the autistic children. The first people seen clinically with celiac disease were the worst cases. They had clear bowel symptoms: they were wasting, failing to thrive, little kids with potbellies, thin arms and legs. You see those first because it is so evident, and those are the ones described in the literature. As you investigate the disease further, you find other markers of the disease, such as antibodies in the blood, or chemical markers. Then as you screen populations you realize that the disease is far more prevalent than initially recognized. In fact, the majority of cases are below the waterline. It’s called the “celiac iceberg.” It’s well recognized in other diseases as well. Medicine is first confronted with the most severe cases.
The importance of this is that those below the waterline are at risk of long-term adverse consequences from the disease if it is not picked up and treated. If you put celiac patients on a gluten-free diet they respond as well. And the interesting thing in the context of autism and behavior is that if you put youngsters with subclincal celiac disease—those below the waterline—on a gluten-free diet, their performance in school, their health, and their behavior improves. So there is some effect beyond just the sensitivity to gluten in the gut.
Going back to your original question, yes, I believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg, that there is significant overlap between these conditions and that we will find far-reaching effects from the vaccine policy.
Is it true that when they studied the safety of the MMR vaccine, observation for negative effects was conducted for only a few weeks after the dose?
There are two systems. One is the short-term study that you mentioned, where you use a timeframe based on what you know about measles infection—and the timeframe for symptoms after exposure is typically about five weeks for measles. But that’s of minimal help, because we know that measles can cause persistent infection and delayed disease. You have to institute a system that will pick up delayed adverse events, delayed disease, and not just ones you expect. You need a system to address new events, because you are administering the vaccine in a manner different than how one normally encounters it. We typically inhale a virus, but you are injecting this into the skin along with other components, with different strains. And you are giving it to children at ages that differ from when the child might naturally be exposed to it. So you have to look with great vigilance for adverse reactions.
You have two options, then. One is that you look by active surveillance. That is, you go out into the community and ask the doctors, “In the last month, have you seen any adverse reaction to this vaccine—anything at all?” You record the information, take it back, and compile the data. The second approach is to rely on passive studies, in which the doctor contacts you if he suspects there is a link between the vaccine and adverse reactions. The difference between the two is dramatic. It is estimated by the FDA that true adverse reactions are picked up by passive surveillance in only one to ten percent of the actual reactive cases.
That number is increased dramatically by active surveillance. Of course, it’s expensive and it’s time consuming. But the point is, if you are going to have a vaccine policy for the world, if you are going to mandate vaccine, if you are going to stop children from going to school unless they have had their vaccine, then you’ve got to be damn sure that you’ve got it right. There’s no excuse. There’s no cost that’s too great. There’s no vigilance that is too stringent.
Unfortunately, the system they have been using is passive surveillance, which has been recognized by all authorities to fail. It doesn’t work. Physicians are inherently unlikely to report an adverse reaction. They don’t want to be sued, they don’t want to go through all the paperwork—and they may not recognize some adverse reactions. Autism has never been considered a response to a vaccination. It’s not in the book, so why report it? It’s only something parents are saying, and “what do the parents know?” So this is the problem that we are up against. We have a system that does not work.
I know you have suggested that the MMR vaccine should be broken into single doses and this help would solve some of the problems. Could you elaborate?
We have to now look at this problem very carefully. There is no room for dramatic changes, such as removing the vaccine all together. Let me tell you why. Historically, mothers who have contracted measles have passed on extremely good immunity to their children through the placenta. So the child was protected during the first year of life, until the immune system reached the point where it could fight off a measles infection effectively. Then infants began to be vaccinated with the single measles vaccine, and the females grew up to have babies—and they did not confer immunity to their offspring. We don’t know why—the immunity passed on just wasn’t as powerful and long-lasting. So if we stopped vaccinating now and measles came back, infants would contract it because maternal antibodies wouldn’t protect them. That would be a catastrophe because the young children are the ones at the greatest risk of complications and death.
I also believe a large part of what we are seeing is a synergistic interaction among the components of the MMR vaccine. Further, substances such as mercury, which can influence the immune system, may compound this synergy. So, if a child has been given a toxic level of mercury and is also challenged with a live virus, the immune system may react negatively. It’s biologically plausible and it has to be looked at.
We shouldn’t stop vaccinating, because we don’t want measles to come back. We have to be very careful. We have to sit down and think through how we are going to get ourselves out of this dreadful situation that I believe we are in.
What about some of the proposed new vaccines?
I think there should be an absolute moratorium on the introduction of any other vaccines at this stage, given the schedule the children currently have in this country. The idea that is being discussed of putting 14 or 15 into the same injection is incredible. They have talked about this but it would be a catastrophe if that happened. It defies the way the immune system has evolved. We need to simplify the way children are protected. I think these studies have to be done. Public expense is irrelevant.
Do you think that even without mercury in some of the other vaccines there would still be reactions—is mercury the main culprit?
It may well be a piece of the jigsaw. I can only go from our own clinical experience, and the clinical experience that we have with the children that we investigate is that they are neurodevelopmentally normal until such time as they encounter their MMR —which never contained mercury—and then they regress. The mercury load in the U.K. is much lower than it is in the States. We don’t use Hepatitis B vaccine, for example. We have a less aggressive schedule, yet the temporal trends, the numbers for autism are still high and similar to the U.S. Nonetheless, it is perfectly feasible that mercury is contributing to both the neurodevelopmental problems as well as the immune deficiencies we see in these children. I just don’t know at this moment which is the most important, which is the main player. I do know that those studies must be done.
What can you tell us about mercury in vaccines, and the recent removal of it from vaccines. I understand stockpiles of old vaccines may still have the mercury-containing preservative, thimerosal, and others may have just a “trace” of mercury.
Mercury should never have been used in the first place and it shouldn’t be there now. Dr. Neil Halsey, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins, made an incredible apology at a recent meeting on the use of mercury. He apologized for the presence of mercury in the vaccines, saying that they just hadn’t added up the numbers; they just didn’t calculate how much mercury kids were getting with the numerous vaccines they receive. That is inexcusable—to tell parents that you failed to do something so mundane as adding up those numbers! How can a vaccine safety committee even begin to understand the complexities of vaccine interactions if it doesn’t even occur to them to add up the amount of toxic mercury in the vaccines?
Can you address the demographic studies that have come out recently which do not support an MMR-autism link?
I can sum them up, and this is a point I tried to make at the IOM meeting. What we originally published was a series of cases of children. Not an epidemiological study. They were clinical observations seen in a series of children. We went on to do a similar study of the first 60 children with controls, confirming the bowel disease in youngsters with autism. At that time we didn’t report any hypothesis on how the MMR vaccine might be causally related. What we relayed was simply the story the parents told to us.
We then went on to publish an invited article outlining the possible hypothesis of how changing the child’s immune system and then challenging it with measle virus in the form of the MMR vaccine might lead to persistent infection and disease. Again, we hadn’t at this stage put forth any hypothesis that could be tested in a population, in an epidemiological study. The assumption, however, by the epidemiologists who wrote these papers was that MMR vaccine causes disease. So they dichotomized it into those who had the MMR and those who didn’t have the MMR, and they tried to do studies. They looked at temporal trends; they looked at the introduction of the MMR. So they assumed a hypothesis, and then they labeled that hypothesis as mine. At the IOM meeting I was labeled as having about 20 hypotheses in the first half an hour! They said, “We tested the Wakefield hypothesis.” I said, “Guys, this has nothing to do with me! This is your hypothesis.”
Let me tell you what we find now, and that is that certain conditions make a child more susceptible. We learned this from having reviewed the charts of 200 children in our clinic and discussing thousands of children worldwide at meetings. The sorts of things we believe make children susceptible are: 1) family history of autoimmune disease—diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s, colitis; 2) Children who are unwell when they are vaccinated, they have an infection; 3) They have recently been on antibiotics or are currently on antibiotics; 4) Children who have allergies, particularly food allergies; 5) Children who get multiple vaccines on the same day. We believe those conditions contribute to an adverse reaction. It’s not as simple as: you get an MMR immunization and you get disease. It’s not that easy.
We spent the last four years trying to determine what makes a child susceptible so that you could then design an epidemiological study to test that hypothesis. The published studies you refer to have not tested anything, and they have made up the hypotheses. What they have accomplished, though, is they have confirmed the dramatic increase in autism. Some who used to insist that the larger numbers being reported were simply due to greater awareness have now acknowledged this increase. And they have confirmed that the increase occurred around the same time the vaccine was introduced. But they show a continued upward trend. They suggest that if autism was a reaction to the MMR vaccine, then the trend should have leveled off. They conclude it can’t possibly be the MMR. I said to them, “Well, look. The hypothesis that we are putting forth and that could be tested in an epidemiological context is that MMR is the causal factor, the triggering factor, but these children are increasingly susceptible. Why? Because the rate of maternal autoimmune disease has increased, because the rate of antibiotic use by children over this time period has increased dramatically, the numbers of vaccines that the children are given concurrently has been increasing dramatically, as has food allergy in children. All those background factors have increased. As a result, the likelihood for subsequent generations of children to suffer an adverse reaction to the MMR vaccine is increasing. That’s the hypothesis that should be tested.
Do you make recommendations for treatment for children with autism?
Treatment depends on the diagnosis, and the diagnosis depends on the history and the examination. Medicine is relatively simple in that sense. You just have to be sure to put the horse in front of the cart. Treatment is based on taking a proper history and examining the child. The question is, who is fully examining these children with autism? If you examine thoroughly it’s remarkable what you can discover. If the children turn out to have the sorts of things that we see, inflammatory bowel disease, then there are approaches that can be taken to improve the condition. The mainstay of treatment is to address the bowel needs.
Has your recent work focused solely on autism?
No, our team has worked with a lot of Crohn’s disease. And whatever we learn in one of these conditions is helpful for the other—it’s very much an opportunistic thing. There’s a similar evolution and pattern of the disease. They are almost different forms of the same problem. But with the autism we see that the bowel disease has started at such a young age; we think that’s part of the reason the brain is so severely affected.
Let me please ask about Tourette syndrome (TS). Our organization, Association for Comprehensive NeuroTherapy, proposes that while there can be a genetic predisposition for TS, environmental factors can often determine the onset and extent of symptoms. The Tourette community, both at the prevention and treatment level, largely ignores the environmental aspect. Do you have any thoughts on this?
I have no personal experience with TS, but I’m quite sure that there is an environmental connection for these neurological conditions. If you look at PANDAS, there is a source of infection outside the cranium—a strep throat condition, but it is having an indirect effect on the brain through the immune system. It occurs clearly after the first 30 days of pregnancy and generally before the age of ten. There is a ubiquitous exposure affecting a minority of vulnerable children. It starts with an infection and affects the nervous system. I spoke with one of the researchers for PANDAS (pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections), and she pointed out that if they had relied on epidemiology to provide the answer for these cases they would never have discovered the PANDAS connection. Another interesting thing she noted is that after the first exposure it may take five or six months before TS symptoms occur. But when they have subsequent exposures to strep, the symptoms then occur very quickly.
Thank you very much for this interview. You know that you have earned the admiration of thousands of families for your resolute efforts in this area. I’m wondering—when facing such tremendous political pressure, do you ever doubt yourself?
All the time! You would be insane if you didn’t. But, you know, you can see the connection growing. You go from one case to the next, and you see that the story is the same—it’s the same here, the same there. You listen to both sides of the equation. You listen to Neil Halsey apologizing for failing to add up the mercury content in children’s vaccines, and you know that his committee presumed the safety of the MMR vaccine based on very little data. That’s one side of the equation. On the other side you have the clinical experience of these youngsters, the inflammatory bowel disease, and other researchers from around the world describing the same thing. And you have the parents reporting this reaction to the MMR vaccine.
It comes down to a simple question. Who do I believe? Who do I trust? Do I trust the research and the parents? Or do I trust the vaccine manufacturers.