The ‘lost generation’ of unvaccinated kids

How Andrew Wakefield’s bogus theory spawned a generation at risk

Blood simple: Andrew Wakefield tied the MMR vaccine to autism in an infamous 1998 paper

Rebecca Naden/Reuters

Earlier this month, in the small coastal city of Swansea, Wales, a 25-year-old man with measles was found dead in his flat. It was the first measles fatality in Britain in five years, and a bleak development in an epidemic caused by a health scare that began here more than a decade and a half ago.

Almost 900 people, mostly children and adolescents, have contracted the disease in recent weeks. Health officials say it’s the result of a “lost generation” of children, now roughly 10-18 years old, who did not receive their vaccinations as infants in the 1990s. Back then, there were widely publicized concerns about a link between bowel disease, the MMR vaccine—which protects children against measles, mumps and rubella—and autism. While the link was later disproved and the 1998 paper that promoted it exposed as fraudulent, many parents, particularly in the Swansea area where the local media took up the story, still failed to get their children immunized. Why this legacy of mistrust took hold in south Wales more strongly than the rest of the country is not entirely known, though most put it down to those early reports, combined with a relatively inward-looking culture. What’s certain is that consequences could be dire.

The Swansea epidemic shows no signs of ending; 121 new cases appeared in the last week. Epidemiologists expect the outbreak could last until the summer holidays and beyond. And there are serious concerns it could spread to other parts of Wales, due to low vaccination rates across that region—as well as across the entire country. It is estimated at least 40,000 children across Wales are currently not vaccinated.

The former surgeon and medical researcher at the centre of the controversy is Andrew Wakefield, who was a senior lecturer and honorary consultant in experimental gastroenterology at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine. In 1998, he published a now-infamous paper in the medical journal The Lancet that linked “behavioural symptoms” with MMR, reporting that the onset of autism began two weeks after infants received their first round of jabs. (His theory was that the measles portion of the vaccine damaged the children’s intestines and eventually their brains.) The paper claimed to have identified a new syndrome, which Wakefield and his co-authors dubbed “autistic enterocolitis”—a behavioural disorder supposedly brought on by MMR and linked to bowel disease.

Many parents of autistic children hailed the research as a breakthrough; not only did it offer a cause for a mysterious and debilitating disorder, it offered a solution, too: a gluten- and dairy-free diet that proponents claimed alleviated symptoms.

Celebrity proponents of the MMR-autism link, most notably Jenny McCarthy, went public promoting the research. But despite 14 major public health studies in countries such as the U.K., U.S., Denmark and Finland, which studied more than 600,000 autistic children, no researchers were able to replicate the link. In fact, the rate of autism was exactly the same in children who had received MMR as those who had not. Wakefield’s theory was obliterated.

The U.K.’s General Medical Council launched an inquiry into allegations of misconduct and, in 2010, found that Wakefield had “failed in his duties as a responsible consultant.” He was struck off the Medical Register and barred from practising medicine. The Lancet, which published the original paper, issued a full and immediate retraction, and the Sunday Times declared Wakefield’s autism link “an elaborate fraud” perpetrated for the personal gain of Andrew Wakefield himself.

Amazingly, none of this has given Wakefield a moment of pause. He has consistently maintained his innocence and the veracity of his findings and continues to promote the idea of an MMR link to autism. Indeed, he took to YouTube earlier this month to defend himself against the latest claims that the outbreak in south Wales was his fault. His bizarre argument is that the government was actually to blame, as it showed more interest in protecting the MMR vaccine than at-risk children and did not heed his advice to administer separate vaccines. The Independent newspaper ran a link to Wakefield’s screed on the front page of its website and was roundly excoriated for giving him a platform.

Meanwhile, as the media focus on Wakefield, public health workers in south Wales are desperately trying to make sure all unvaccinated children receive their jabs. The “lost generation” is still at risk. As one Welsh epidemiologist told the BBC, “Nowhere in Wales is safe from measles, and I think that is true of the U.K. as a whole.” Unrepentant though he is, Andrew Wakefield has a lot to answer for.


The ‘lost generation’ of unvaccinated kids

  1. Anyone who does not vaccinate their child is exposing their child to unnecessary risks. We must use science for our advantage (this is one of the many things that differentiates ourselves from others). Anyone who believes in the link between autism and vaccination has not reliable facts (or, as some people say are “idiots”). It is time for people like Wakefield to take responsibilities for their actions and to stop promoting negative, false facts. Goodbye Wakefield, your ideas are not acceptable, are false and misleading and not welcome in our great country.

    • They’re not just exposing their own child to unnecessary risks, they also put other children at risk. A significant factor in the effectiveness of vaccination programs is herd immunity: get enough people immunized, and a disease can’t effectively spread. That provides protection to people who aren’t vaccinated, or for whom the vaccine was ineffective. People skipping vaccines benefit from a free rider effect if everybody else is vaccinated. Get enough of those unvaccinated people in a population, though, and suddenly a lot of vulnerable individuals are also at greater risk of catching the disease as it can now spread effectively.

  2. I guess I must be of a ‘lost generation’ also. Vaccines had not been invented when I was a child in England and it was expected that most children would get measles, chickenpox, whooping cough and possibly ‘German measles’ when it swept through their school, better to be gone through as a child rather than as an adult. It was a rite of passage, a bit like automatic tonsil and adenoid removal at a certain age.
    I am not sure why an announcement of possible risk in the vaccine should be decried; if this turned out to be the case, it is unlikely drug companies could be trusted to make this known since it would affect their profits.

    • People also died back then. Ah for the good old days before modern vaccines when polio swept through communities. You have to watch out for those nasty drug companies

      • Polio rates had dropped SIGNIFICANTLY before the medical ‘heros’ of the day came up with the vaccine.
        The same goes for most childhood illnesses and vaccines.

        • Polio is now on the way to being eradicated throughout the world. We have to thank the vaccine discovers and manufacturers for removing all of taht pain and suffering from the world

        • No they didn’t, you are not telling the truth.

        • Jenn, polio is an epidemic in developing countries. For goodness sake, stop with the untruths. It really is beneath you.

    • Yes, how many young people did you know that died of polio or were crippled by it. How about whopping cough? My mother is 86 and she knew of families who lost babies to whopping cough. Maybe you were around when children were dying of all kinds of preventable diseases. Boy life was really swell back in the good old days wasn’t it?

      • “Whooping” cough; pronounced “hooping”, aka “pertussis”. Whopping cough is what you got when you were whopped too hard with a wooden spoon.

        • I apologize for the typo. As a nurse whose daughter had WHOOPING cough, I know what the disease is, what the actual medical term is and the proper spelling but thank goodness for grammar police. I hate to think my gaff would upset you so much. There, their, they’re….it’s alright. Perhaps have a stiff drink.

    • People also went blind from measles, and if a pregnant woman contacted German measles at a certain stage of pregnancy, chances of having a severely handicapped baby were pretty high. Also, removing tonsils and adenoids “automatically” wasn’t the greatest treatment – you notice it’s not being done now. You might want to try reading – some science.

    • Jeez ow old are you?

      I’m no spring chicken but was jabbed left right and centre throughout my formative years and since. And yes I spent the first 30 years of my life under the NHS.

  3. More big pharma BS.
    Gotta line up kiddies.
    And get your mercury shots.
    Straight to the bloodstream.

    • TV, there is no mercury (thimerosal preservative) in any pediatric vaccines. Further, there is no mercury in any vaccines except those in multidose vials. That excludes all vaccines except the influenza vaccination. Vaccines are either given into the muscle or into the subcutaneous tissue, never into the blood stream.
      If you are going to use fear mongering, please get accurate information out there.

      • I’m sorry but just because it doesn’t go into the blood stream doesn’t mean anything it goes into your BODY!! There is no difference, and your right there is no mercury but there is a whole lot of other crap like MSG, animal cells, other preservatives, some have aluminum etc

        • Well of course the virus particles or attenuated virus goes INTO THE BODY. How else would it trigger the body’s immune system to make antibodies to fight the disease?
          As for your claims about what are in these vaccines, where did you get that list of ingredients because it is totally false. I have the list of ingredients for the MMR vaccine that is used in Canada from the Merck Frost website. Now, before you start talking about how dishonest ‘big pharma’ is, just remember that Health Canada requires that even food companies provide lists of all the ingredients of their food stuffs on the packaging before they can sell them in Canada…so here goes….
          The MMR vaccine #1, contains: the live viruses of measles, mumps, rubella, and the virus is suspended growth medium #199.
          Growth medium #199 is a buffered solution containing vitamins and amino acids, supplemented with fetal bovine serum, SPGA (sucrose phosphate, glutamate and recombinate human albumin) as stabilizer and neomycin.
          Now maybe you mixed up aluminum and albumin. I am not sure but there you have it. Yes, neomycin is an antiobiotic and it acts to stop any bacteria from growing in the suspension so it is a preservative of sorts. Sometimes they use polymixin B.
          Have at it and tell us how horrible this ingredients really are for ourselves and our children. I would love to hear your theory on how they are worse than the measles.

          • Glutamate (MSG) is a known neurotoxin.

          • Glutamate is an amino acid. Your claim that it is a neurotoxin is quite funny because you know that despite their dogged attempts, they never established that MSG had any effect on the human brain. I guess all you vaccine haters aren’t eating Chinese food. Meanwhile, how much glutamate exactly is in the vaccine? How much mercury…less than in a can of tuna? Is it true that mercury is present in all fish in the ocean? Come on now, let’s have some truth between us. Why aren’t you guys out their picketing against cigarettes, they have almost everything in them and a person doesn’t just get exposed to a few in a lifetime, they get exposed to thousands. Plus, there are no health benefits to cigarettes.
            Meanwhile, you have ignored the risks of getting the diseases.

          • MSG is a common additive in Asian food, are you sure you have a clue about that which you spout forth on?

  4. The problem was the perception around the triple vaccine MMR.
    Solution: offer the single dose.

    NHS answer- no way! Thus the problem was magnified.

    If the health authorities were really worried and committed about stopping vaccine problems then they would be bending over backwards to encourage everyone to vaccinate, whether it be MMR, single jab, or a happy meal coupon after the jab.

    Instead, they want to bend everyone over and tell them, as is typical of a nanny state, what they shall do. Most non-sheeple usually have a problem with this approach.

    Public medicine usually works better when the public feel that they are at the heart of it,

    • There are a few issues with single vaccines. One of them is the logistics. The first vaccine to children in Canada is typically the DPTP and HIB at 2 months. That is five diseases covered with one vaccine. Do you really want to poke a two month old baby with FIVE separate needles to make Andrew Wakefield and the public feel less concerned about the vaccines. You could always spread these vaccines out but this vaccine alone needs two additional doses at 4 and 6 months. Then you have the MMR at 12 months and 4 1/2 years. You have the chicken pox vaccine with two doses. You have the Hepatitis B with three doses. Perhaps you are beginning to get a picture of how many times a child would have to get poked and how long it would take for a child to get coverage for these diseases when there is NO SCIENTIFIC PROOF that giving the vaccines in a combination was problematic. If you think that suffering children and multiple visits would placate parents who were already skeptical, I think you are sadly mistaken.

      • The concern was over the MMR! The problem is the arrogance in the medical system. Rather than lecture parents about how they are failing in their responsibility why not listen to their concerns and find a solution that works for all.

        After all, the public pays for the healthcare why can’t they have a say (note, the term ‘a say’, not total control, just ‘a say’) in its administration? Right now parents in the UK are totally ignored or shamed if they have concerns, founded or unfounded. Why?

        • There never was a “problem” with the MMR vaccine. As one tenacious journalist found in interviews with the subjects’ parents, several of the children in Wakefield’s study had symptoms prior to ever getting the vaccine and others developed symptoms months after getting the vaccine. The arrogance was not on the part of the medical system. The arrogance and dishonesty was on the part of a researcher who had a theory and then employed fraudulent means to prove it was true. As you have learned, people aren’t just avoiding the MMR vaccine. They are not getting their children vaccinated against many diseases including whooping cough and diphtheria. To pretend that the consequences of this controversy were limited to the MMR vaccine is disingenuous.
          As for parents having a say in their children’s healthcare. Of course they have the ultimate say in most cases. However, it isn’t ethical for a healthcare worker to promote the spread of misinformation and bad science. It also isn’t ethical for a healthcare worker, especially a physician who has taken the Hippocratic oath to do no harm to poke a baby three times when there is no medical indication for it. I am not sure you are aware of this but Andrew Wakefield had received money from law firms who were suing vaccine makers and he was receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars to testify on the ill effects of the vaccine. This has all been discovered with regard to his earth shattering study. His motives for his study findings were very suspect.

          • I never said a problem with the vaccine, I said the concern was over the vaccine . I never implied that there was a proven problem with it, do not put words in my mouth thank you very much.

            I also never implied that the people deciding that they didn’t want vaccines was just limited to MMR. The ‘perception’ over the MMR was a real catalyst behind the increasing numbers of non-vaccinated kids.

            Besides, Germany can manage the single jab, why cannot England?

            Keep the arrogant attitude towards people who want to question vaccines and watch more turn away. If you are truly concerned and truly want to solve the problem, then get off the high horse, start talking with people and offer the choice would seem the most pragmatic way to start encouraging people to vaccinate again.

            I don

          • Got cut-off…con’t

            I don’t understand how you consider jabbing a baby 3 times a breaking of the oath, yet condescending reproaching of parents to such an extent that they decide to withdraw from the vaccine program all in a day’s work.

          • Condescending? Frenchie, I am just saying that I am a mother and I can tell you that when my baby who is 1 year old is screaming and they are poking her three separate times…if I have any doubts about the need to vaccine, I am not coming back for the booster.
            Now I am the healthcare provider and the mother asks me, is there a good reason to poke this baby three times, the answer is no.
            At one time, it was believed that if a child had a disease like mumps and then received the vaccine for mumps, the child would have a nasty local reaction to the vaccine due to a high number of antibodies in the child’s system. This was proven not to be the case. I was a parent whose child had whooping cough but still had my child given the DPTP & Hib vaccine because i didn’t want her poked several different times and I didn’t believe the local reaction would be as painful as the multiple pokes. As it turned out, there was a negligible local reaction. Therefore, the need for single vaccines and the reasons for using them no longer existed.
            I have no knowledge Germany does but you cannot do one
            poke and deliver several vaccines unless you are delivering a combination of vaccines with that one needle.

            Now, you may call it arrogance, condescending, etc. I call it educating parents on what the reality was versus the misinformation that was given. I can honestly say, I myself never had a patient in front of me who expressed doubts decline the vaccine after I did the teaching. It isn’t my job to sway patients but only to provide accurate information. The choice of whether to accept any treatment or not is up to the patient. They always will have the ultimate say but I can tell you that healthcare providers are fighting an uphill battle when all they have is a boring truth compared to Jenny McCarthy’s conspiracy theories.

  5. I spend a lot of time reading old newspapers from the mid 1800s, both in the US and in Canada. I cannot believe the number of children who died from diptheria, scarlet fever and cholera – just mind-boggling. I would suggest anyone considering NOT vaccinating their kids, spend some time reading about how many children died from these diseases before a vaccine was invented.

    • In the mid 1800’s the general population didn’t know about cleanliness and hand washing and their water wasn’t clean in a lot of cities/towns/villages. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that doctors figured out that washing their hands before delivering babies or operating on an ill person would help prevent infection. The rates of those diseases you’ve mentioned here had dropped DRAMATICALLY long before the introduction of the vaccines meant to stop them.

      • We actually had a outbreak of diphtheria approximately 15 years ago. You will find that the reason we vaccinate against many diseases is because there is no treatment for them and when they strike they tend to be deadly or very disabling. Diphtheria for instance kills 6 of 9 people who contract it.

        Tetanus is another one that won’t ever go away. It is in our soil. If you step on rusty nail, you can contract it. It also has a high death rate.

        Whooping cough has been on the comeback for the past 18 years or so. Meningitis is always a threat. In third world countries Polio continues to be an epidemic.

        It is interesting that despite our great advances in hygiene and the increase in life spans that we have seen as a result of it, we are now seeing a resurgence in diseases we thought we had virtually eradicated. Why do you think that is?

      • No they did not.
        The incidents of some diseases dropped off with handwashing but polio, measles, smallpox etc. did not.
        The reason why smallpox is gone is vaccination end of story, handwashing had nothing to do with it.
        The incidence of Whooping cough increased when vaccinations were foregone by the chattering classes in Japan and Scandinavia, yet decreased once the misinformed resumed letting their kids be vaccinated. History tells us your assertions are wrong.

      • So your saying if we wash our hands and wipe our arse we won’t catch AIDS or other known disease?
        That the medical field hasn’t done anything ever to help mankind?
        There has been no incredible break threw in the medical world?
        That no knowledge was ever gained everything can be solved by a clean home?
        Blood transfusions will never be needed, sinus medicine, torn muscles needing cortisone shots etc

        Cleanliness is next to godliness, just keep your home clean and nothing bad will happen?
        Ask the Jehovah Witnesses how that belief has worked out for their population numbers

  6. Wakefield’s “misconduct” was taking biological samples at a children’s party setting WITH the parents’ consent by the way, rather than in a lab.
    He still advocates a single measles vaccine rather than MMR. The UK government had already decided to promote MMR over anything else and left patients with no choice in the matter. This “like it or lump it” agenda has backfired — parents have lumped it.
    In any event, the furor of the measles cases in Swansea is a tempest in a teapot. 400 cases out of several million people is hardly an “epidemic”.
    The British Medical Journal was quoted 20 years ago as confirming that measles is generally a mild, uncomplicated, self-limiting disease that rarely causes complications requiring further medical intervention.
    There were plenty of measles cases going around when I was a kid and nobody thought twice about it. Same with chicken pox, mumps, etc.
    Stop trying to make Dr. Wakefield or unvaccinated kids the scapegoat.
    I’m still waiting to see the statistics of how many of the present (likely by now former) measles cases occurred in vaccinated kids, because past statistics have always shown a higher incidence in vaccinated ones! So much for the vaccine/prevention myth.
    Recent outbreaks of “polio” in India were actually CAUSED by the polio vaccine, however they decided to call it Acute Flaccid Paralysis.
    The Indian government is now suing Gardasil vaccine manufacturers for inoculating 16,000 kids without any kind of informed consent and the injuries have been monumental.
    People no longer trust drug companies to do anything other than increase their bottom line.

  7. Birthers/9-11 Truthers/Boston Bombing Truthers/Moon-Landing theorists/vaccine denialists. All one and the same.

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