Doctor blames Andrew Wakefield and anti-vaxxers for her baby son catching measles

Disgraced former doctor's discredited 1998 research paper claiming to show a link between the MMR jab and autism led to a heavy fall in uptake among parents

Katie Forster
Wednesday 28 June 2017 15:37 BST
The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine
The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine

A doctor has said public reaction to Andrew Wakefield’s discredited study linking the MMR vaccine to autism was to blame when her baby son caught measles.

Dr Eleanor Draeger told medics at the British Medical Association’s (BMA) annual meeting in Bournemouth that her 10-month-old was not yet old enough to receive the vaccination when he developed the disease – which should now be confined to history, she said.

“The reason he had measles is because of the fall-out from Wakefield's paper,” said Dr Draeger at a debate on parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, sometimes known as “anti-vaxxers”.

The MMR – measles, mumps and rubella – vaccine has been in use since 1971, but the controversy surrounding it began in 1998 when former doctor Mr Wakefield published a research paper in The Lancet claiming to show a link between the combined jab and autism.

This led to a heavy fall in uptake among parents at the time, but exhaustive scientific research has now disproved the theory and Mr Wakefield was struck off the medical register in 2010.

Dr Draeger told delegates at the conference that vaccination is a “medical miracle and something that we should be supporting wholeheartedly”.

“I qualified in 2000 and when I was at medical school I was taught about measles as a historical disease that I would probably never see,” she said.

“In 2007, I saw my first case of measles in a 10-month-old baby who was really, really unwell - wasn't hospitalised but spent 10 days dehydrated and seeing the GP every day with constant fear for their health. That 10-month-old baby was my son.”

“He has had every vaccination but at 10 months he was too young for his first MMR. The reason he had measles is because of the fall-out from Wakefield's paper.

“Something which should have been historical in my career isn't historical any more."

Today around 24,000 children are not immunised against the three infectious diseases each year in England, with a number of parents continuing to choose not to vaccinate their children due to fear of potentially dangerous side-effects.

Dr Draeger said “we need to educate” parents on vaccination, because “these illnesses are completely preventable”. Doctors “have to be strong on this subject,” she added.

Delegates were debating a motion which states: “That this meeting in the wake of the measles outbreak that swept Europe in March 2017: i) condemns anti-vaxxers who deny immunisations to their children; ii) calls upon the BMA to present a position paper to the government on the potential advantages and disadvantages of childhood immunisation made mandatory under the law.”

The motion was passed as a reference which means that delegates have asked the BMA to take it away and look at it in further detail and decide how to take the issue forward.

Presenting the motion, Dr Farah Jameel said: “Children are dying of diseases preventable by vaccination. Others are being permanently harmed.

“But great progress has been made through vaccination programmes and in the last 20 years more than one in five of all childhood deaths have been averted due to measles vaccinations.

”But the spectre of the anti-vaxxer movement is upon us, and wherever it gains a foothold we see the reversal of these public health gains.

“We should condemn the movement strongly and without reservation and ensure that policy makers and MPs listen.

“Before Wakefield, in this country typically there were about 100 cases of measles a year. In 2012 there were 2,016 cases.

“Two children in the UK have died of measles since 2006 - what a waste of life. Neither had been given the MMR vaccine.

“And during the Welsh measles outbreak in 2013 a young man died of measles complications.”

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Speaking against the motion, Dr David Mark Smith from Yorkshire Regional Council, said: “To be clear, we absolutely need to increase vaccination rates. But who are these 'evil' anti-vaxxers?

“To me these are parents, loving parents, concerned parents, who feel that they are doing the best for their children.

“This is a group of people who are deeply mistrustful of us [doctors]. This is a battle for their hearts and minds and how are we choosing to battle for them?

“[This] would condemn them. And worse still we would ask this government about whether or not they think it's right to force treat their children. This is not the way.

“You don't win these hearts and minds with condemnation, you win with compassion.”

The MMR vaccine is offered to children for free through the NHS as part of the routine childhood immunisation programme.

Youngsters receive their first dose around their first birthday and the second when they are around three years and four months.

Additional reporting from Press Association

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