Doctor Who Ignited Vaccine-Autism Debate Sues But Loses

Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who started the vaccine/autism debate in 1998 when he wrote a paper that questioned if a childhood vaccine caused a new form of autism, who was later found guilty of acting unethically during the time he conducted the case report, and then was stripped of his medical license in 2010, is now getting further disheartening news.

As it’s just been reported that he cannot sue a U.K. medical journal, its editor and a British reporter for defamation in Texas, a judge in Austin ruled.

In a one-paragraph order, Travis County District Judge Amy Clark Meachum said Texas courts don’t have jurisdiction over the parties Wakefield sued, so she tossed out the case.

Wakefield, who is 55 and lives in Austin, vowed to pursue it. “We think we have a very good argument, and we plan to appeal,” he said.

The firestorm that Wakefield ignited back in 1998 was based on a paper he wrote for The Lancet.

“His hypothesis was that by combining the MMR into a single shot that it was somehow weakening the immune system, causing the measles part of the vaccine to travel to the gut and cause damage, ” said Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the Section of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who has been twice threatened with lawsuits for critical statements he has made of Wakefield’s work.

That theoretical damage, according to Wakefield’s hypothesis, could then theoretically travel into the bloodstream and cause damage to the brain causing autism symptoms.

“It created a firestorm,” Offit said.

Wakefield has previously sued reporter Brian Deer in the U.K., but he withdrew those suits because, he said, he was dealing with a hearing on his medical license before the U.K.’s General Medical Council, which regulates doctors.

The council found Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct, citing dishonest, irresponsible research he performed in 1998; actions contrary to the interests of children; conflicts of interests regarding his involvement in a lawsuit against a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine; and failing to disclose his involvement in seeking a patent for a rival vaccine.

Wakefield has maintained his innocence. He was quoted as saying:

“I want to make one thing crystal clear for the record – my research and the serious medical problems found in those children were not a hoax and there was no fraud whatsoever. Nor did I seek to profit from our findings. … despite media reports to the contrary, the results of my research have been duplicated in five other countries … I continue to fully support more independent research to determine if environmental triggers, including vaccines, are causing autism and other developmental problems. … Since the Lancet paper, I have lost my job, my career and my country. To claim that my motivation was profit is patently untrue. I will not be deterred – this issue is far too important.”

In January, he sued Deer for a 2011 article in the British Medical Journal and an editorial by Editor Fiona Godlee, claiming they had defamed him by calling his work fraudulent.

Godlee and Deer called the case frivolous and said it fit a pattern of Wakefield trying to silence his critics with lawsuits.

“We’re very pleased with the court’s decision,” said defense attorney Marc Fuller at Vinson & Elkins in Dallas. “We stood behind the reporting in the case, and from our perspective, it’s over.”


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