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At the heart of general practice since 1960

I can't even convince my wife on MMR

So newspapers are once again leading with the debate on MMR and autism. When the controversy was reignited with the allegation that Andrew Wakefield had not disclosed all sponsors who may have had conflicting interests in his original research of six years ago, my first thoughts were: 'Why has it taken so long for this easily available information to come out into the open?' ­ followed immediately by a 'So what?'

No one in the medical sector ever thought the original warranted the publicity it received at the time and since.

The numbers involved in the research ­ a dozen ­ hardly constituted a sample size that would have statistical significance in a condition, autism, affecting thousands and a putative cause, MMR vaccination, involving millions. But what that original paper highlighted was that:

 · The national press, in its need to compete and increase circulation, is eager to pick up and publish any piece of scientific research that may be 'in the public interest'.

 · Our society has moved to a level where it demands a cause for everything.

 · A sizeable minority is unwilling to accept individual risk of any sort to benefit society

as a whole.

MMR/autism is a cause celebre based on simple observation and anecdotal evidence. Many advances in modern medicine have started with little more than that.

I am still bruised and recovering from the HRT debacle where I am now advising menopausal women to do the exact opposite of what I was wholeheartedly advising them to do five years ago.

I am not worried about litigation but I am about losing the faith of the public in the medical profession. Seeing things from a patient's perspective it is hard to argue

against someone who has genuine concerns when you know that the severity of having a child with autism is several orders of magnitude greater than having one with measles, mumps or rubella.

If I had young children today I would still, with minimal concern, have them immunised. My wife, who is not the thickest woman on the planet, would not. If I cannot convince her, how am I going to convince my patients?

Dr Jim Sherifi

Sudbury, Suffolk

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