The sight of hundreds of concerned parents queuing up to get the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccination for their children yesterday in South Wales has made the news, as previously had an outbreak of measles in the area. There has also been an outbreak in the North East. But what is not making the headlines is the role of one well known newspaper in the whole sorry saga.
Apologise? Me? Just f*** right off, c***
The reason that there are so many teenagers needing a vaccination that should have been administered in infancy is down to one thing, and one alone: the low take-up of MMR following a number of scare stories some years ago. As a result, the doctor at the heart of the suggestion that MMR could trigger autism, Andrew Wakefield, was struck off – almost three years ago.
Private Eye magazine took Wakefield’s side. It did so for some years. But editor Ian Hislop has since conceded that MMR is not linked to autism. No such hint of a mea culpa has been forthcoming, however, from the chief culprit, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, who personally oversaw the Daily Mail’s onslaught against MMR, which was still going on last year.
And the Mail still employs the chief protagonists: political editor James Chapman, who told “MMR fears gain support”, even after Wakefield had been called out for dodgy practices. Sally Beck, who penned “Scientists fear MMR link to autism” in 2006 was still writing for the Mail six years later. And one pundit stands out for her typically nasty attacks on the vaccine.
Yes, Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips was in the vanguard of the Mail campaign. “MMR- the truth” thundered a Mad Mel headline from some years back. Mel reinforced this with “MMR safe? Baloney. This is one scandal that’s getting worse” in October 2005. She knew, because she had read the evidence, and anybody dissing her, well, hadn’t. If only it were that simple.
Ben Goldacre of the Guardian was soon following up with “The MMR sceptic who just doesn’t understand science” to tell how Mel had got it wrong. “The problem is that Phillips seems to misunderstand basic epidemiology ... Her response is a microcosm of the problems that can arise when journalists engage with science” he observed. It didn’t deter Mad Mel.
She then denounced Goldacre. In turn, Michael Fitzpatrick showed why she was now wrong twice over. But the Mail and its pundit have never so much as considered recanting. The results of their years of scare stories could be seen yesterday as worried parents rushed to get their kids immunised. And, as Fitzpatrick mused, “If children die from measles, the MMR scandal may indeed get worse”.
That is where we are now. So perhaps the Mail might consider a correction or two.
The Daily Mail coverage was some ofthe worst medical journalism I have ever seen. Not just having an innacurate thesis (which can happen even to experts) but completely misunderstanding the nature of evidence. I remember one 2-page spread of mothers with children who had been diagnosed with a panoply of complaints which mught have had a neurological element. So not just the very wide range of autistic spectrum disorders but epilepsy, mental health problems, and every kind of learning disability from the (relatively) minor such as ADHD to the deeply disabling. All of them had had the MMR jab,of course. God only knows what this was meant to prove.
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