In April 2015 there are demonstrations against the forced vaccination of all school-going children in California.
Had the measles virus been able to do so, it would have rubbed its hands on Saturday, February 28, 1998. After being suppressed for a long time by the effective BMR vaccine, the virus has now opened the door to freedom ajar.
That 'door' is a scientific article that the British doctor Andrew Wakefield of the Royal Free Hospital in London publishes in the renowned magazine The Lancet.
In a study involving 12 children, the doctor pointed to a link between autism, intestinal diseases and the BMR vaccine, which is administered against mumps, measles and rubella.
Wakefield states that the vaccine affects the intestines and somehow affects the brain, causing children to become autistic in a few days.
Virus attacks small children
The article sparks a sensation far beyond science and a few years later the consequences can be seen immediately in the disease statistics.
Many parents refuse to have their children vaccinated with the BMR vaccine, and the measles virus in particular makes grateful use of the vulnerability of unprotected children. In five years, the number of measles cases in Britain has doubled.
Unfortunately, the children did not benefit, because Wakefield had committed fraud with his research. But it takes a few years for this to be proven, and then there is already a lot of resistance to vaccines in general. The statistics don't lie.
In April 2015 there are demonstrations against the forced vaccination of all school-going children in California.© RICH PEDRONCELLI / AP / RITZAU
Doctors speak out against vaccines
Andrew Wakefield is the son of two British doctors and is also going to study medicine himself. In 1981, he graduated from St Mary's Hospital Medical School in London at the age of 24, at that time the most beloved medical faculty in Britain.
The young doctor learns for the surgeon and specializes in organ transplants, but his interest is shifting, and in 1993 he knows all eyes are on thanks to a scientific article. In it, Wakefield puts forward the theory that the measles virus can cause Crohn's disease.
Two years later, he claims that the live, attenuated viruses in the BMR vaccine are the cause of this bowel disease, and the vaccine is soon accused of causing autism.
In 1998, Wakefield and 12 colleagues published an article in the British scientific journal The Lancet. The researchers claim that they have identified a new disease, which they call autistic enterocolitis. They see a connection between a new type of bowel disease, autism and the BMR vaccine.
12 children participate in the study
The article is based on a study of 12 children, who functioned normally before the vaccination. Eight of them were affected by behavioral symptoms 14 days after the vaccination, according to the study.
The BMR vaccine consists of weakened virus particles from the three diseases mumps, measles and rubella. As soon as the particles are injected, the immune system produces antibodies that suppress the virus.
If the unaffected virus attacks later, it is quickly recognized by the immune system - and disabled. But the dose of the weak living virus is precisely the problem according to Andrew Wakefield.
He tells that to the BBC, although he has not proven that with his research. "If you administer three viruses simultaneously - live viruses - you increase the risk of side effects, especially if one of these viruses affects the immune system as strongly as measles," he says according to the BBC.
Media spread the story
Shortly after the publication of the alarming results, the doctor holds a press conference in which he calls on parents not to have their children vaccinated until scientists have thoroughly investigated the matter.
The following day the story pops up in all media: "BMR vaccine causes autism." Newspapers, TV, radio and internet make it ever bigger. In 2002 - four years later - British newspapers alone printed 1531 articles on the subject. Two thirds of them criticize the BMR vaccine or call it outright unsafe.
The negative press is heated up a lot, and for fear of autism among their children, many parents have decided against vaccination.
Fear of vaccination is increasing exponentially
Before Wakefield published its results in 1998, 90 percent of all British children received the vaccine. In 2003, that figure plummeted to 80 percent, and a similar trend occurs in the US.
That decrease may not seem so great, but it is nevertheless very serious. For a vaccine to be effective, a virus must not find too many 'freedoms' in non-vaccinated people who can infect it and in whom it can multiply.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that at least 95 percent of the population must be vaccinated against measles.
At that percentage, the virus can go so few directions that everyone - including people who are too sick to be vaccinated - is protected.
Finland has already achieved 95 percent, and measles have been eliminated here for 20 years. Great Britain was also well on its way to that goal.
The measles© Shutterstock
Measles claims first victim in 14 years
After the number of measles cases in the 1990s in Britain has been somewhat stable at 100 to 200 a year, it begins to rise. The number more than doubled in 2003, and although it fluctuates thereafter, the increase is undeniable.
In 2008 there are almost 1400, and in 2012 it peaks with more than 2000 Britons who get measles. A death occurred in 2006: the first acute measles infection in 14 years.
The research by Andrew Wakefield not only frightens parents in Great Britain, but also in the rest of Europe the number of vaccinated children is declining, and in 2011 there are four times as many measles cases as in 2008.
The same trend is taking place in the US, where fewer children are currently being vaccinated against BMR than in countries such as Libya and Zimbabwe.
Doctor chooses test subjects themselves
The ventilated skepticism, however, gives no accurate picture of the vaccine. From the outset, health authorities all over the world point out that the vaccine is safe and have historical evidence for this.
In the US there were around 400,000 cases of measles a year, until a vaccine was issued in 1963 for children around the age of one. The more extensive BMR vaccine dates from 1971.
In five years, the number of measles cases has fallen to 50,000 a year, and since the vaccination program was expanded in 1990 with an injection at the age of four, there are less than 200 cases per year in the US. Meanwhile, it appears that Andrew Wakefield's research is rattling pretty well.
For example, he selected his test subjects in a very unusual way: when his son turns ten in 1998, Wakefield offers the little guests of the birthday boy five pounds to donate a blood sample.
This goes against all ethical regulations for medical tests, but Wakefield appears to have made much more serious mistakes in the selection of his test subjects.
British journalist Brian Deer discovers this when he goes into the case and in 2004 brings his findings into a series of articles in the Sunday Times and the medical journal BMJ.
Children already had symptoms before vaccination
The journalist shows that the parents of most of the test subjects were convinced in advance that the BMR vaccine caused their children's autism. They are preparing a lawsuit against the manufacturer to get compensation, and their lawyers are paying Wakefield half a million euros to prove the symptoms of the children.
Moreover, the journalist reveals that the link between the vaccine and autism is fraud. Three of the children who allegedly developed autism were never diagnosed, and five had mental and physical developmental disorders prior to vaccination.
The subjects were therefore not randomly selected, but carefully selected among people who previously thought that the BMR vaccine was guilty of the diseases of their children.
In this way, the experiment must almost certainly confirm itself. For example, even if a researcher finds 100 heart-healthy people who have been smoking all their lives, that does not mean that smoking is healthy.
On the contrary, the researcher must randomly select 100 smokers and 100 non-smokers and then compare the health of the two groups.
Wakefield therefore also had children who had not been vaccinated and had to examine children without autism.
More than a million children are being examined
Furthermore, he had only used 12 test subjects and there was no control group. Biological systems are so complex that there can be many explanations of the connections that scientists observe.
Therefore, tests must always be repeated several times in different ways and in other laboratories. Many researchers do that too.
In 2002 the doctor Kreesten Meldgaard Madsen from the Danish university of Aarhus published a study among all children born in Denmark from 1991 to 1998. Of the 537,303 children, 82 percent had received the BMR vaccine, and 738 had developed autism.
This shows that the vaccine does not lead to an increased risk of autism; on the contrary, the risk of autism was 8 to 17 percent lower in vaccinated children than in non-vaccinated children.
It seems that the vaccine is more likely to protect children against autism - but the statistical uncertainty is too great to draw such a firm conclusion.
In 2014, Guy Eslick from The University of Sydney in Australia came up with the same thing. Using statistical methods, he has investigated five studies, including that of Meldgaard Madsen, in which scientists investigated the relationship between autism and vaccines.
These five studies involve a total of 1,256,407 children, and again the conclusion is clear: children are not at risk of autism due to vaccination.
So there is Wakefield's study of 12 children compared to - 1 / 100,000 of the Australian study.
Andrew Wakefield with supporters after British health care in 2010 has labeled his research as unethical.© SHAUN CURRY / AFP / SCANPIX
Doctor applies for patent on alternative vaccine
Confidence in Andrew Wakefield is already low in academic circles when Brian Deer reveals in 2004 that the doctor had previously applied for a patent for an alternative measles vaccine.
The existing BMR vaccine is a mixture of three vaccines against mumps, measles and rubella, and in this cocktail the measles vaccine is harmful according to Andrew Wakefield.
In his patent application, he states that the risk of autism and intestinal ailments is eliminated by administering the measles vaccine separately, and he has developed such a vaccine.
Wakefield therefore has a major financial interest in bringing the existing BMR vaccine into disrepute, which raises the nasty suspicion that the doctor deliberately committed fraud for financial gain with his article in The Lancet.
After this criticism, ten of the twelve other researchers and co-authors of the controversial article turn their back on the doctor and say they regret the consequences.
Journal withdraws article
Wakefield is now under heavy fire, and pressure is being exerted on it The Lancet to withdraw the article from 1998. The scientific journal had only expressed its regret about the irregularities related to the financing of research by lawyers.
The editorial may have considered that the withdrawal of an article would put it in a bad light.
In January 2010, the British Health Council, General Medical Council (GMC), established that Wakefield was guilty of "scientific misconduct" and a very unethical treatment of sick children by taking blood without prior permission.
Draws that conclusion - six years after Brian Deer's revelations - The Lancet finally the misleading article. Soon after, Andrew Wakefield has to hand in his doctor's license.
More and more people are having their children vaccinated again and now many countries have set themselves the target again of achieving a vaccination rate of 95 percent.
5 medicines that save millions
Medical breakthroughs such as vaccines, insulin and antibiotics have saved millions of people worldwide over the past 200 years.
Vaccine eradicates smallpox: The first vaccine in the world focused on smallpox, a disease that cost 300 to 500 million lives in the last century. In 1977 the vaccine had eradicated the disease.
Antibiotics cure in a new way: The first antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered in 1928 and saved millions of people from being killed by infection, but also made organ transplantation possible.
Insulin brings dying to life: The diagnosis of 'type 1 diabetes' meant death before the discovery of insulin in 1921, but now around 20 million patients lead normal lives.
Washing hands saves women in labor: In 1867 the doctor suggested Joseph Lister to disinfect hands and instruments before surgery. The maternal mortality rate promptly dropped from 10 to 1 percent.
Anesthesia makes operations painless: Before the arrival of ether in 1846, 90 percent died after surgery, partly because the doctor had to work extremely quickly in order not to stretch the pain of the patient.
Anesthesia has reduced mortality during operations by around 90 percent.© BSIP / GETTY IMAGES
HPV virus kills 300,000 people a year
Despite this, Wakefield's article has cast doubt on vaccines, and now the HPV vaccine has to suffer, which was introduced some ten years ago.
This vaccine protects against the most common variants of the human papillomavirus, HPV, which particularly infects the genitals of young women and causes genital warts.
Furthermore, the HPV virus is responsible for almost all cases of cancer in the anus and cervix, more than half of all cases of head and neck cancer and tumors in the vagina, labia and penis.
Worldwide, the HPV virus is suspected of causing around 300,000 cases - 5 percent - of cancers with fatalities per year.
The HPV vaccine has only been used for around ten years, and since it provides protection against a cancer that only manifests itself 10 to 30 years after being infected with the HPV virus, it is not yet certain how effective it is.
However, a new, major investigation from 2019 takes away much doubt. It is a so-called meta-study, combining data from 65 studies into the effect of the vaccine. In total, the meta research comprises 60 million people.
The results clearly show that the vaccine has greatly reduced the number of HPV infections, genital warts and cell changes in the cervix. The greatest effect was visible with a high vaccination percentage with multiple birth years.
Results 5 to 8 years after the vaccine
- Women between the ages of 13 and 19 had an 83 percent lower risk of having one HPV infection of type 16 or 18. For women between 20 and 24 the risk was 66 percent lower.
- The research also indicates that the vaccine offers cross protection: the risk of HPV types 31, 33 and 45 was 54 percent lower in vaccinated women between 13 and 19 years old.
- Vaccinated women between 15 and 19 years had a 67 percent lower risk of it Genital Warts. The risk was 54 percent lower for women between 20 and 24, and 31 percent lower for women between 25 and 29.
- The number of extensive cell changes on the cervix it was 51 percent lower among women aged 15 to 19, while a decrease of 31 percent was observed among women aged between 20 and 24.
- The risk of genital warts was 48 percent lower at boys and men between 15 and 19 years old, while it was 32 percent lower for men between 20 and 24 years old.
The HPV vaccine prepares the immune system for the virus by administering an empty copy of it.© JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES
Bloggers criticize HPV researchers
Despite those promising figures, the HPV vaccine has many opponents, calling on parents not to have their daughters vaccinated. They spread their message through blogs, social media and other internet services.
There are all kinds of groups and bloggers who are critical of vaccination. On paper they are not for or against vaccination, but they just want to get to the truth that they think the government is hiding.
Personal, often anonymous stories and apparently scientific articles that look critically at research results flourish on Facebook and websites.
For example, questions are raised about the selection of test subjects and the financial gain that pharmaceutical companies can achieve by distributing the vaccines on a large scale.
The influence of bloggers is reflected in the national statistics. In Denmark, the number of girls born in 2003 who started the HPV vaccination program, with 54 percent the lowest in Scandinavia.
The number has fallen enormously compared to girls born in 1998, with 92 percent starting the program, and significantly lower than in Norway and Sweden, where 88 and 80 percent of girls respectively started it.
Only 29 of the 1.5 million are chronically tired
Canadian anthropologist and neuropsychiatrist Anna Kata from McMaster University in Ontario investigated groups that she believes are increasingly influencing parents' decisions because many people listen less to doctors and experts but are guided by information they find on the internet.
Kata found out that the anti-vaccination campaigns make experts suspicious, arguing that they are puppets from the pharmaceutical industry, or that science is often wrong.
And some put the vaccine in a bad light by emphasizing that it is not 100 percent effective or that it is not yet known how well it works. Furthermore, the vaccine is considered unnatural, compared to the infection that happens automatically, or potentially dangerous because the opposite has not been proven.
These arguments are difficult to refute because they are broadly formulated and vague, often based on a single case and do not look at the scientific documentation.
But the most scientific argument of the vaccination skeptics makes no sense. That is that doctors have found a number of cases of chronic fatigue in young vaccinated women.
UK health care in a study in 2013 found that of the 1.5 million vaccinated girls, 29 had symptoms of chronic fatigue in the period from 2008 to 2010.
But even if only 10 percent of all cases of chronic fatigue were reported and included in the study, the number falls within the limits of what you can expect, because the symptoms can also have other - often unknown - causes.
Moreover, the number of cases of chronic fatigue in girls had not risen since the vaccination was introduced in 2008, but even dropped by around 10 percent.
A Norwegian study from 2017 came to the same result. The study included more than 800,000 girls and boys who were between ten and 17 years from 2009 to 2014, and data on more than 175,000 girls who could receive the HPV vaccine from 2009.
The number of cases of chronic fatigue had risen, but not more in girls than in boys, so the vaccine goes free.
A large Danish study by the National Serum Institute in 2017 also shows that the HPV vaccine has no long-term side effects, and that the vaccine does not lead to an increased risk of serious autoimmune diseases or neurological disorders.
Degraded doctor is looking for the silver screen
Far from his tarnished reputation in his home country, Andrew Wakefield is now on the other side of the ocean.
In January 2013, he appeared in Washington D.C. at the Realscreen Summit, an annual gathering where the TV industry develops concepts for reality shows.
From his notebook, Wakefield showed a short trailer of his idea for a new TV show - The Autism Team: Changing Lives. There are three children with autism, but to the relief of the parents, Wakefield and his team have developed a remedy.
The reality show follows the road to healing, but is not yet programmed. The former doctor, however, continues his fight and is still convinced that the combination of viruses in the BMR vaccine is harmful.
In 2016, he made his debut in the Vaxxed film, in which he claims that he will catch governments trying to destroy data showing a link between the BMR vaccine and autism. The film was received lukewarm.
Fortunately, because even though pharmaceutical companies sometimes aggressively enter the market and not all the side effects have been mapped out, it is a fact that vaccines have not only completely eradicated various diseases but also saved the lives of millions of people.
Vaccines have reduced disease rates
Thanks to vaccines, far fewer people are affected than before by dangerous diseases such as tetanus, polio and measles.
For example, the number of measles cases in the US has fallen from more than half a million a year in the 20th century to 61 in 2010. Polio and smallpox have even disappeared altogether.
Despite this success, various diseases have not yet been eradicated, so vaccination is desperately needed.