The Daily Mail have decided to have a go at MMR again as pointed out by Ben Goldacre at Bad Science. A child has fallen terribly ill "six months after MMR jab". Ten years after Andrew Wakefield speculated himself into the headlines by suggesting a link between MMR and autism (in a press-release mind, not in a research paper), this misguided rubbish is still being presented as "science news". Actually, most of the papers now seem to reject the link and are thus in the business of demonizing Wakefield himself, as if they had nothing to do with the scare. But the Daily Mail is apparently not quite ready to take even that ass-covering step. They cite the 1998 Wakefield paper (it was a press release that actually made the claims) and I have responded, though I wonder if it will be published.
Daily Mail, please read the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al. It does not suggest anything more than a temporal connection between the MMR vaccination and the onset of a symptom associated with autism (colitis) that's a long way from even suggesting a possible connection between MMR and autism. Wakefield decided to make that particular suggestion directly to the press, perhaps because the evidence did not support him and he knew it would not be published. More tellingly, ten of his his co-authors on the 1998 paper retracted their support for that claim.
So here we have another temporal association. Thing Y has happened after thing X. And so we must assume that X caused Y, right? Rubbish. I'd imagine a whole load of things happened before this poor kid fell ill.
At this point I ran out of words in the little submission box, so I'll conclude as I would have liked.
The child doubtlessly slept, ate breakfast and breathed constantly just prior to falling ill. So far as we can actually gather from the evidence here, almost anything could have "caused" this tragedy. The likeliest explanation though, is that it was nothing we could have predicted. You write that the child had previously suffered brain damage due to a Herpes Simplex infection at the age of two weeks. Anyone who has had coldsores will know that re-activation of that virus (it never leaves us) is not a predictable event and it has never been causally linked to events such as vaccination, as far as I'm aware.
To imply that MMR was responsible for this sad event is deeply irresponsible journalism and it will doubtlessly further the anti-vaccination movement and lead to more sick kids, and probably more deaths from measles- a disease that was nearly extinct in Europe before this totally unfounded scare.
Update 23 Jan 2009: Predictably enough, my comment has not appeared on the Daily Mail article. Nor have any at all, for that matter. Given that the Goldacre Evidence Army was alerted, that seems just a little suspect to me...
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