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Now that the controversy caused by the fraudulent researcher Andrew Wakefield has settled, we have begun to deal with the consequences. The measles outbreak in Swansea was caused by too few children and young adults being unprotected. The enormous effort to provide 75,000 ‘emergency’ vaccinations in that city’s area alone has stopped the outbreak, but still another 30,000 children in Wales have had no vaccination and overall in the UK there could be a million. But at least the confidence of the public in vaccination has been restored, and reckless journalists no longer preach foolish rumour about harmful vaccines.
But what about serious and respected researchers who are raising doubts? It seems that the Wakefield affair has an even darker shadow in secrecy and the suppression of reasonable concerns. Professor Peter Aaby is a Dane who has worked in public health in Guinea Bissau since the ‘70s. He is a serious and respected researcher, who saw that in that African country and elsewhere children who received measles vaccination not only survived that disease, but were protected from other infections. This “non-specific effect” is wholly outwith the theory of vaccines, that the immune system is primed to identify and kill specific invading organisms. Even if we do not understand how it works, such general protection that enables children to survive can only be good news.
But Aaby also saw more worrying events. There was a shortage of Diptheria-Tetanus-Pertussis (DTP) vaccine in Guinea-Bissau in the 2000s, and he found that children who fell ill from other diseases were more likely to die if they had had DTP. More over, it was girls who were most likely to die. No one, from Professor Aaby to me, is suggesting that DTP or any other vaccine should not be used, in fact the Prof is working on different programmes of vaccination that he thinks may alleviate this problem.
What is more worrying is revealed in the article in this week’s New Scientist: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24027-booster-shots-the-accid... and in the Editorial that accompanies it: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21929301.800-silence-isnt-gol... Prof.Aaby finds it difficult to get his work published, and the Editorial tells that the WHO committee on vaccination, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation all refused to comment.
It was a lack of candour about vaccinations that fuelled a controversy about Wakefield, from his lying to politicians' protestations of complete and utter safety. That journalists smelt a rat, but looked for it under the wrong haystack, cannot be a surprise, and those who lead global vaccination programmes should learn that they must be open about new controversies, to prevent a future debacle that this time could be far, far more serious than Swansea.