Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

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

Rapid Response:

Evan Harris's competing interests: an historical perspective

Evan Harris states here [1]:

"Prior to 2005 he undertook an unremunerated Industry and Parliament
Trust Fellowship programme with GlaxoSmithKline."

But he failed to mention this when introducing the House of Commons
debate on this topic on 15 March 2004 {2].
And even here he fails to mention that GlaxoSmithKline was one of the
defendant companies in the MMR litigation. Furthermore, he does not
explain exactly what the fellowship entailed but it was presumably held to
be of benefit to both parties (i.e. the paliamentarian and the company) or
it would have served no purpose. It would not be surprising if this
included, for example, close personal contact with senior executives of
the company, and having the needs and interests of the company explained
to him. This certainly should have been disclosed at the time.

On the other hand he disclosed in the 2004 debate [2], but not here
[1], that his father (Frank Harris) was a recently retired professor of
paediatrics. However, he has not disclosed on either occasion that his
father sat on the Committee on Safety in Medicines in the years 1990-2 [3]
which led up to the sudden withdrawal from the market by SmithKlineBeecham
of Pluserix MMR vaccine in September 1992 [4], and formed a key part of
the continuing class litigation against GSK until the case was wound up in
June 2007. Harris's continuing close association with his father was
attested by the publication of details of a property transaction between
them in the Daily Telegraph last year [5].

It is evident the GMC findings against Andrew Wakefield and John
Walker-Smith of conducting inappropriate investigations have been viewed
with widespread scepticism in these columns by senior experienced
professionals [6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13] and it is also likely that the central
claim of the GMC that the Lancet study is based on the protocol for the
Legal Aid Board study will be before long the subject of legal challenge.
Perhaps, therefore, Dr Harris could be prevailed upon to hold his horses.

[1] Evan Harris,'After Wakefield: the real questions that need

[2] House of Commons debate, 'Vaccination and Autism,15 March 2004,

[3] Who's Who 2008, p.1006 col.3.

[4] BMJ 'Medicopolitical digest vol 305, 26 September 1992 p 778

[5] Rosa Prince, 'MP's expenses: you help to pay for a flat: then
parents by it', Daily Telegraph 1 June 2009,

[6] F Edward Yazbak,'Did retracting the paper matter', 4 March 2010,

[7] Karl I Reicheldt,'A travesty of justice', 25 March 2010,

[8] Nicholas Wright,'Does Autistic Enterocolitis Exist?',

[9] Susan E Davies, 'Caution in assesing histopathological opinion',
30 April 2010,

[10] Deirdre Kelly and David Branski, 'Response to feature
Wakefield’s "autistic enterocolitis" under the microscope from ESPGHAN', 6
May 2010,

[11] John A Dodge, 'Brian Deer and Enterocolitis', 10 May 2010,

[12] Lorene E A Amet and Pippa Line, 'Autism Syndromes: Clinical
issues behind the label', 12 May 2010,

[13] John A Dodge, 'Re: Re: Gastrointestinal disorders common in
individuals with ASDs', 27 May 2010,

Competing interests:
Autistic son

Competing interests: No competing interests

28 May 2010
John Stone
UK Editor, Age of Autism
London N22