Until very recently I thought I knew how I felt about Andrew Wakefield’s research and the combined MMR immunisation.
I agreed with a statement made by The Lancet that his research was ‘fatally flawed’ and that he had acted ‘dishonestly and irresponsibly’, as accused by the GMC.1
I was also impatient with those parents who listened to his nonsense and, in turn, put not only their own children but those around them in danger of contracting such potentially devastating infections.
That was until the letter arrived inviting our son for his MMR.
Instantly I felt a flutter of anxiety. That awful saying, ‘there’s no smoke without fire’, crept into my mind and I started to vaguely research the availability of single jabs.
Luckily my very sensible GP husband arrived home at that point and teased me mercilessly about being so irrational. I had not predicted that, when faced with the decision myself, I would ever question the generally accepted medical wisdom that the MMR is safe.
On my way into work recently I heard an interview with a Welsh public health consultant talking about the measles outbreak in Swansea. She spoke with true compassion about those parents who had felt they were doing the best for their children by declining the MMR a few years ago, but urged them to come forward now and protect them with the immunisation.
I had been so quick to criticise those parents as being irresponsible and unthinking that I had actually missed the whole point. The reason that Wakefield’s research was so damaging was that it preyed on one of the most insecure, anxious and paranoid groups in society: parents.
The vast majority of parents are driven almost purely by a desire to protect their children. You need only quickly browse the shelves of a few children’s shops to realise there is a large amount of money to be made through terrifying parents. Gadgets to avoid cot death, kitchen accidents, infections… The list is endless. Wakefield only needed to plant the smallest seed of doubt in the minds of UK parents for the inevitable consequences we see now to follow.
Rather than being careless and worthy of our derision, those parents whose children missed out on the MMR now need our understanding and beneficence.
We as a medical profession need to take some responsibility for the fact that perhaps we did not do enough to combat the anti-MMR machine when it was at its most destructive and powerful.
My son had his jab last week – not because I am a sensible medic, but because I want to protect him in every way I can.
MMR – Making Mums Regretful since 1998.
Dr Laura O’Loghlen is a GPST1 who lives in Devon and trains in Gloucestershire.
1 Brian Deer. The Lancet scnadal. 2010.http://briandeer.com/mmr-lancet.htm