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Feature Secrets of the MMR scare

How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c5347 (Published 06 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:c5347

Rapid Response:

Re: How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed

As a co-organizer of the vaccine conference in Jamaica I will dare to say that it was not an anti-vaccine campaign. Neither did Andrew Wakefield “headlined the cabaret” as Mr Deer puts it. Wakefield was merely one of the speakers.

There are many scientists on the pro-vaccine side who do not hold on to common dogmatic preconceptions about vaccines. Vaccines are no different to other pharmaceutical drugs which mean they carry risks of side effects, INCLUDING serious side effects. This is a fact and whether one likes it or not is irrelevant. The only thing that remains debatable is how common such serious side effects are. The reason for the Jamaican conference was to open up a discussion on this topic. Such discussion does not make one anti-vaccine. When Toyota found that several of its models had a faulty crankshaft pulley which could have lead to loss of power steering, they discussed the problem and pulled the cars of the market [1]. Does that make Toyota’s management anti-car?

You will also note that one of the speakers of the conference was Dr Yehuda Shoenfeld [2], one of the world’s leading experts in autoimmune diseases. Shoenfeld is VERY much pro-vaccine (but he is not ignorant of the fact that vaccines can cause problems), as his Nat Rev Rheumatol paper CLEARLY illustrates [3]:

“Vaccines have been used for over 200 years and are the most effective way of preventing the morbidity and mortality associated with infections. Like other drugs, vaccines can cause adverse events, but unlike conventional medicines, which are prescribed to people who are ill, vaccines are administered to healthy individuals, thus increasing the concern over adverse reactions. Most side effects attributed to vaccines are mild, acute and transient; however, rare reactions such as hypersensitivity, induction of infection, and autoimmunity do occur and can be severe and even fatal.”

“Vaccines are clearly essential and safe for most individuals. Nevertheless, our responsibility includes continuing to rigorously assess vaccine safety and attempting to identify possible risk cofactors and at risk individuals so as to minimize vaccine associated serious adverse events and improve vaccination compliance.”

1. http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2011/1109/Toyota-recall-Does-crankshaf...

2. http://www.vaccinesafetyconference.com/speakers.html

3. Agmon-Levin, N., Paz, Z., Israeli, E. & Shoenfeld, Y. Vaccines and autoimmunity. Nat Rev Rheumatol 5, 648-652.

Competing interests: No competing interests

11 November 2011
Lucija Tomljenovic
Neuroscientist
University of British Columbia