Poor Andy Wakefield.
Beginning in the late 1990s until around six years ago, Andy was the premiere “vaccine skeptic” in the world. His 1998 case series published in The Lancet linking bowel problems in autistic children to the measles vaccine, the one where in the paper itself he was careful not to blame the MMR vaccine for autism but elsewhere was not so shy, launched a campaign of fear and loathing for the MMR vaccine that continues to this day. In his heyday, Wakefield was quite the figure, showing up on the media everywhere, treated with undeserved respect by much of the tabloid press and downright reverence by the antivaccine movement. (Indeed, Age of Autism founder J.B. Handley once famously referred to Wakefield as our “Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one.” Of course, thanks largely to the efforts of Brian Deer, the wheels came off a five years ago. That year, Wakefield lost his license to practice and his (in)famous case series in The Lancet was retracted, as it had been demonstrated rather conclusively that Wakefield had committed scientific fraud in that study. Even the antivaccine quack mill Thoughtful House, where Wakefield had reigned supreme as chief antivaccine autism quack couldn’t take it any more, and its board of directors rather unceremoniously gave him the boot.
Of couse, since then, Wakefield has done pretty well for himself, remaining a figurehead adored by credulous antivaccine activists, a veritable hero. He was still flown to antivaccine conferences in nice hotels in places like Jamaica. He still manages to live quite a comfortable lifestyle, in part thanks to the generosity of of the deep pockets behind the antivaccine movement, as reported by CNN, in part thanks to his Strategic Autism Initiative. Another times, he exploited the tragedy of the murder of an autistic boy, Alex Spourdalakis, in a most shameful fashion.
So, two days ago, when I saw this story, I couldn’t believe it:
Andrew Wakefield, the British researcher who was made famous by his 1998 study that linked autism to a childhood vaccine, is coming to Salem next month to testify before the Legislature, a health care lobbyist confirmed Tuesday.
The Senate Committee on Health Care is exploring a bill, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, that would ban parents from claiming nonmedical exemptions from their children’s school immunizations.
By the time I saw the story, it was too late to blog about it for yesterday; so I put it in the hopper for today. However, two days ago, I did blog about the Oregon bill to which the article refers. The bill, SB442, was originally intended to clarify the procedure for parents to get non-medical exemptions to school vaccine mandates. However, in the wake of the Disneyland measles outbreak consideration was being given to amending the bill to eliminate non-medical exemptions altogether. As I pointed out, the very fact that a state like Oregon, which is a hotbed of antivaccine activity (J. B. Handley, for instance, lives there) would even consider such a bill, is a sea change in attitude in the wake of continuing measles outbreaks.
Of course, antivaccine activists weren’t going to take this lying down, and they didn’t. J.B. Handley, for instance, submitted testimony to the Oregon Senate Committee on Health Care on February 18. Not surprisingly, he pulled out the same old tropes that I’ve seen him using over the decade that I’ve been blogging and since I first encountered him: “too many too soon“; argument by package insert; the pharma shill gambit; and, of course, the antivaccine dog whistle that ties vaccine “choice” to parental rights and freedom.
Still, I couldn’t understand why on earth anyone would think that tarting up old, discredited Andy Wakefield, flying him up to Oregon, and plopping him in front of the Senate Committee on Health Care would serve the cause of “vaccine choice.” I mean, seriously. Is there any “vaccine skeptic” currently more discredited than Andrew Wakefield in the mind of the public? Sure, there are actually more despicable antivaccinationists, but few people have heard of them. Wakefield, on the other hand, is famous, but he’s famous because he’s a discredited fraud who did antivaccine research for money. Brian Deer showed us that. And there are many victims. I know that Wakefield’s visit was arranged by the Oregon Chiropractic Association, but I didn’t think that even chiropractors were so deluded to think that a discredited fraud like Wakefield would help their case. In fact, when I first heard of the story, I was almost happy. The more quacks and cranks antivaccinationists trotted in front of the committee, the better. What better way for them to shoot themselves in the foot, to self-immolate? I was even thinking of suggesting more cranks to testify, such as Mark and David Geier or Christopher Shaw. Heck, why not get Sharyl Attkisson?
Sadly, my anticipation of the spectacle of Andrew Wakefield testifying was not to be. Yesterday, many of you sent my way this story:
Oregon legislators have canceled a meeting to discuss a bill that would eliminate nonmedical exemptions from Oregon’s school immunization law, after it became clear that a controversial vaccine researcher who linked the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine with autism was planning to testify.
The Statesman Journal reported Tuesday that Andrew Wakefield, whose 1998 study was retracted from The Lancet and refuted by subsequent studies, was planning a trip to Salem to testify against Senate Bill 442.
He said in a phone interview on Wednesday that he objected to allegations made by Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, the bill’s sponsor, that he committed scientific fraud in his research.
Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, chairwoman of the Senate health care committee, said she canceled the March 9 informational meeting because she felt the first public hearing, on Feb. 18, provided enough information.
Poor, poor pitiful Andy! He’s so toxic that the very mention of his potentially showing up to testify can shut down a legislative committee informational meeting. I don’t believe it for a minute when Anderson claimed:
Monnes Anderson said her decision did not have anything to do with Wakefield’s intentions to testify.
The March 9 meeting will only take invited testimony from constitutional law experts who will weigh in on the legality of SB 442, she said. During a work session, committee members can tweak the bill as well as vote on it.
Come on. Does Anderson really think her constituents are that stupid? Maybe she does. In any case, I’m torn by this decision. On the one hand, it would have been grand entertainment to see Andy trotted out in front of the committee to spew his usual brand of antivaccine misinformation, and I bet that he would not have been particularly impressive, old fraudster that Deer showed him to be. In fact, I rather suspect he would have inadvertently helped the cause of eliminating non-medical exemptions in Oregon. After all, what better weapon would those supporting the bill have than to be able to attach the name of someone as disreputable as Andrew Wakefield to opposition to SB442? On the other hand, there would have been a chance that letting him testify would have actually elevated him, made him less disreputable. In any event, my guess is that Anderson saw that letting Wakefield testify would turn her committee’s “informational event” into a media circus. No, strike that. It would have turned it into a circus. So she wisely canceled, because Wakefield is just that toxic.
My only consolation in this is that antivaccinationists seem to be their own worst enemies. As I said before, anyone with an ounce of political savvy would have realized that letting someone like Andrew Wakefield testify, someone who is (1) famous, (2) discredited, and (3) highly disreputable, testify is the same thing as putting his face on the opposition. There’s no way this could have ended well for antivaccinationists. In fact, the chiropractors and antivaccine “health freedom” types who pushed to get Wakefield on the list of people giving testimony should thank Monnes Anderson profusely for saving themelves from themselves.
They won’t, of course, They are just that deluded as to believe that having Wakefield’s chance to testify yanked hurt them. But, hey, according to news reports, Wakefield wants to hold a town hall meeting in Portland. Somehow, I doubt that will go very well, either. After all, remember what happened the last time Wakefield tried to have a “town hall” meeting to protest to what he viewed as a pro-vaccine provocation. “Pitiful” doesn’t begin to describe it.