Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations MMR

After Wakefield: the real questions that need addressing

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 26 May 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2829
  1. Evan Harris, former Liberal Democrat science spokesman
  1. drevanharris{at}

    Have medical journals and hospital ethics committees yet got their act together?

    In February 2004 I got a call on my mobile from a journalist at the Sunday Times saying he wanted to talk to me about the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism. I said firmly that I didn’t have any concerns about MMR, I didn’t want to assist a scare story, and if I did want to talk about public health it wouldn’t be to the Sunday Times, given the paper’s record on HIV and AIDS coverage. “Too bad,” said the man. “I have an exclusive exposé about Andrew Wakefield’s undeclared conflicts of interest surrounding his original 1998 Lancet paper.” “Hang on a sec,” I said. “I’ll get Dr Harris on the line.”

    That was when I first encountered investigative journalist Brian Deer. Within a week we were in the Lancet offices explaining to a stunned editorial team what lay behind that fateful 1998 paper.1

    Brian Deer had discovered that Andrew Wakefield was being paid by the legal aid board to provide an expert opinion for plaintiff lawyers in a legal suit against the manufacturers of MMR, and that at least some of the children who were claimed to be “consecutive patients referred to the paediatric GI clinic at the Royal Free” were …

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