MMR: the facts in the case of Dr Andrew Wakefield

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  • Format Cartoons
  • Language/s English
  • Target Audience Schools, Self-directed learning
  • EBM Stage 0 - Why EBM?
  • Duration 5-15 mins
  • Difficulty Introductory

Key Concepts addressed


WakefieldThis is a wonderful 15-page cartoon by Darryl Cunningham explaining the events that led to the disastrous loss of confidence in the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) combined vaccine.

It focuses on the fraud perpetrated by Dr Andrew Wakefield and the failure of the media to investigate the conflict of interest that lay behind his claims.

The cartoon covers:

  • recent trends in anti-science sentiment
  • Wakefield’s unsubstantiated theory that the MMR vaccine causes autism
  • his misrepresentation of the findings of his own research to undermine confidence in MMR
  • the global health scare around MMR and autism
  • subsequent outbreaks of measles in several countries.

Daily Mail
The whole thing would have been avoided had the media not given equal credence to Wakefield’s unsubstantiated claims as they did to unanimous evidence from multiple scientific studies involving millions of patients [1]
It also looks at how Wakefield became personally involved:

  • he was initially hired by a medical negligence lawyer to find evidence that the MMR vaccine was harmful
  • he filed a patent for a single measles vaccine in direct competition with MMR
  • he conducted unethical research on children
  • he was eventually struck off by the General Medical Council.

The role of the media in this story is also dealt with:

  • their unquestioning acceptance of Wakefield’s claims
  • sensationalising the story
  • failure to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence from high quality studies that contradicted his theory
  • their use of writers with little knowledge of science and medical research.

The cartoonist, who blogs as Tall Guy Investigates, also cites the sources he used to write the story.


  1. Demicheli V, Rivetti A, Debalini MG, Di Pietrantonj C. Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD004407. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004407.pub3


Leave a Reply


Maria 02:56am Mon 20 Jan 2014

Looks like the pot calling the kettle black. Andrew Wakefield has been consistently supported and defended by the parents of the children he treated. If you read the online explanations on his side you might see that he has consistently tried to be balanced, but the more he saw the evidence the more he saw the need to tell the truth. And even if he did apply for a patent, it is no different than the doctors who are linked with the drug companies financially. They would be biased also.

Douglas_Badenoch 13:08pm Tue 21 Jan 2014

@Douglas_Badenoch Thanks for your comment Maria. Could you please post some links to the explanations you cite so that people can follow up on this? You are right in that there are other situations in which doctors have benefitted in a similar way by promoting particular treatments in their research. At TTi we will always hope to draw attention to them. There are other examples in "Research - good, bad and unnecessary"

Dr. Amy Price 14:55pm Wed 22 Jan 2014

My heart goes out to all the parents that have suffered because of the scarcity of good research on Autism and the concerns about autism and vaccines. I have a grand child who is severely autistic, we don't think vaccines were responsible and neither do his wonderful parents or his sister. It is so hard to have an uncertain future and no clear answers. I do not know Andrew Wakefield but it seems to me that whatever he says it has not answered the questions that matter. In areas of low vaccines there are no lower rates of autism just more dead or disabled children. Wouldn't it be great if patients could do their own valid research, get it published and learn how to understand research for themselves instead of having to depend on expert opinion only? We are working on this at ThinkWell. Http:// The British Medical Journal is setting up a program where patients/the public can become reviewers and NHS choices has opened commentary on papers. It is time to bring plain language to the forefront as 50% of papers are now Open Access according to a blog by Hilda Bastion in Scientific American. The public can offer insight into areas that trials are not equipped for and this is valuable. It is important not to waste precious energy looking at where to level blame but rather what are ways we can solve unmet research questions. Quite a few years ago physicians were also disrupted by a lack of evidence and patient values in their work and decided to look at evidence based medicine. The history of what these doctors and scientists experienced is very similar to what patients and the public struggle with today. See what you think and It might help to read the free Testing Treatments Book to see how evidence is formed, used and abused, I think there is not much about vaccines in there but it is a great tool to sharpen skills and it is easy for anyone to read with real life examples. You can get this by going to the book tab above.

Wayne Stobbe 17:49pm Tue 14 Apr 2015

I don't think we can ignore Wakefields vested interest in creating a single MMR vaccine. I also don't think we can ignore the Brian Deer lied about the fact the Wakefield committed fraud and that his superior John Walker smith who was funded to appeal (Wakefield was not) was completely exonorated.

Douglas_Badenoch 09:06am Wed 15 Apr 2015

@Douglas_Badenoch Thanks Wayne.

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