Below is an extract from the resumed opening address for the respondents of attorney Vincent J Matonoski, of the United States Department of Justice, before special masters the Hons George L Hastings Jnr, Patricia Campbell-Smith and Denise Vowell, on day 6 of the test case Cedillo v Department of Health & Human Services, Monday 18 June 2007
A serious accusation has been levelled. A serious accusation has been levelled against an important part of the public health arsenal against a preventable disease. An accusation has been levelled that MMR vaccine causes autism. And that accusation must be answered, and we will answer it.
It’s serious and it’s important, the issue before you. You know that. It’s certainly important to the Cedillos. It’s important, though, for another reason. This accusation goes against a vaccine that is designed to prevent a killing disease.
We forget that in this country because we’ve been very fortunate. We have not suffered a measles outbreak of any great measure in many, many years. The world does not enjoy our fortune. Four hundred and fifty thousand people die every year from measles. Four hundred and fifty thousand. Almost a half a million people die every year from a preventable disease.
The threat remains real in this country. It remains real, and we can tell that from the experience that Great Britain had. The United Kingdom went through a scare about measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. That scare was based on bad science. That scare was based on the work primarily of one man, Andrew Wakefield.
What happened in Great Britain can happen here. What happened there was there was a lack of confidence in the MMR vaccine. Vaccination rates dropped. Measles came back. And unfortunately, tragically, several people died.
It was bad science that was at the heart of that scare. It was the work, as I said, of Andrew Wakefield. He published an article in 1998 called “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, nonspecific colitis and pervasive developmental disorder in children”.
It doesn’t sound that startling from the title, but he knew what the impact was, and the impact was felt immediately. That article, this study, that he came forward with, launched a scare, a scare against vaccinating children with MMR vaccine.
He claimed to find a link between ILNH, ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, and autism, and that is what you’re hearing in this case: ILNH and autism.
Now try as they might, the petitioners are trying to say that this is not about Dr Wakefield’s study, but his study is at the fore. It catapulted this issue into the public forum, it catapulted this issue into the public’s mind.
You’ve heard a bit about what happened with Andrew Wakefield and his report, but I’m going to go back and pull those strands together that you’ve heard through cross-examination and put it together for you right now in a timeline. I’m going to put it together so you can see how it unfolded, and you are going to see a history that ran from the United Kingdom over to this country where it rests in this courtroom today.
In 1996, Andrew Wakefield was approached by attorneys. These attorneys represented several parents who believed that their children’s autism was caused by MMR. Why Andrew Wakefield? Why him amongst other physicians? Because he had previously tried to show that measles vaccine caused Crohn’s disease. He was unsuccessful in that, but the attorneys knew they had their man.
They went to him. They offered him money to look at their cases, to consult with them. He went on to file a patent. In 1997, he filed a patent for a monovalent measles vaccine, a vaccine that would directly compete with the MMR vaccine, a vaccine he would stand to substantially be enriched if the MMR vaccine were to fall into disuse.
In 1998, he published his study, “ILNH, nonspecific colitis and pervasive developmental disorders in children”. He published it in a very influential journal, the Lancet. I’m sure in your work in vaccine cases you’ve heard of that journal before.
He did not reveal at that time that he had been contacted and received money from lawyers, a material omission in the view of the editors when they found that out later on. He did not of course reveal that he had a competing, a patent for a competing, vaccine to MMR. He went ahead and presented this without revealing those critical facts. They relied on it and published his study.
He also didn’t reveal that several of the children - it was a very small group, there were only 12 children - were actually litigants that were being represented by the attorneys who had given him money.
In 2000, he published another article purporting to show the link between MMR and autism. In 2002, his name again appears on an article that you’ve seen referenced throughout the reports here, throughout the reports of the experts. It was the Uhlmann article, the PCR article.
In 2004, it began to crash down upon him. In 2004, a series of newspaper articles were published, the first one revealing his contract, or the fact that he had received money from attorneys who represented litigants bringing cases alleging MMR caused autism.
The dogged work of one journalist brought this to the fore. For six years, it had remained hidden. When it was out in public scrutiny, what happened? The co-authors on his original study repudiated the results of that study. They published it in the Lancet that they no longer supported the interpretation that it was possible that MMR could cause autism.
Dr O’Leary, whose Unigenetics lab was publishing these results of finding measles virus in the gut biopsies, publicly said he did not support the assertion that MMR vaccine caused autism. They all began to flee from Andrew Wakefield. He alone was left with purporting that there was some connection.
It’s now in our courtroom. It’s made its way across the Atlantic into our courtroom, and we have to deal with it now. But we are going to put on the evidence this morning and throughout this week that will allow you to effectively deal with that, and to show you that MMR vaccine is indeed safe.