The MMR Gravy Train

Dr Michael Fitzpatrick has just published an excellent commentary on the recent revelations about the anti-MMR gravy train. This refers to the multi-million pound bonanza paid out by the Legal Services Commission(LSC) to fund a legal case on behalf of 1200 children whose autism was alleged to result from exposure to the MMR vaccine. Funding began in 1992 and was stopped by the LSC in 2003, “as we were not satisfied the evidence demonstrated a sufficiently strong case.” (scroll down to read the whole letter.)

Now, if I was one of those parents I would want to know why, after 11 years of collecting evidence and running up massive legal bills in the process, my legal team was not yet ready to take the case to court? The answer was simple. The evidence did not exist.

At the time we were presented with a picture of Andrew Wakefield as a lone campaigner battling against the might of the medical establishment to prove what parents already knew – that MMR had caused their children’s autism. He was the hero of a television drama, Hear the Silence, screened just before Christmas 2003 and enjoyed support from such widely differing sources as the voice of conservative middle England, the Daily Mail, and the scourge of the establishment, Private Eye. But all this journalistic interest overlooked one important fact. Wakefield was not alone. He was supported by legal firm, Dawbarns to the tune of £439,553.  It turns out that nearly every professional who ever spoke up in support of Wakefield’s MMR/autism hypothesis was also employed as an expert witness. Professor O’Leary’s laboratory, Unigenetics received  £773,317 to fund its search for measles virus in the gut of autistic children. The total bill for expert witnesses came to over £3.4 million.  To put these figures in perspective,

The Government gave the MRC an extra £2.75 million for autism research in 2002. Since then we have invested £3.1 million in this important area, funding six major new research projects.

Whenever we read accusations of conflict of interest aimed at scientists whose research contradicts the claims of the anti-MMR campaigners we should remember the potential conflict of interest when researchers are being hired by legal firms and paid handsomely to find results to support litigation. As the LSC ruefully observed,

‘in retrospect, it was not effective or appropriate for the LSC to fund research’, conceding that ‘the courts are not the place to prove new medical truths’

There is still one unanswered question in all this. Never mind that the scientific experts  proved an expensive failure. £3.4 million over 11 years is not an unreasonable sum to spend on science. And if the science is flawed and inconclusive or even downright wrong that does not matter, so long as it is published and subject to peer review. But what I want to know is this. What were the legal eagles doing all this time that justified their massive share of the pie? £9,731,430 plus tax was paid out to solicitors and barristers for a case that never came to court!

It is safe to assume that the drug companies who were defending this action paid out at least as much to their legal teams. What a waste!

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2 thoughts on “The MMR Gravy Train

  1. I think we’re in the wrong jobs, Mike…. we need to get ourselves on the expert witnesses list!

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