Oh dear, and I must apologise. This case has been on my storyboard for a long while now but I’ve just not thought to write it up. It has Hamlet – “There’s something rotten in the State” – all over it. And it predates other aspects of the BBC’s decline from sage to gutter rat.
If you’re all sitting comfortably then I shall begin. It all started in late winter, ten years ago, in the middle of a Great Storm. The Storm was reported in all the media and battles had ensued over its causes and its impacts. The Storm was, of course, Andy Wakefield and his mild critique of the MMR multiple vaccine. Resultant from his mild critique victims of the process had been going down, as parents refused to allow doctors to give this jab to their kids. The Medico-industrial Complex hated this attack on their legitimacy and Andy was ritually crucified by the General Medical Council in its Star Chamber.
As I say, the media had a field day – some papers (Daily Mail) pro Wakefield, most (like left wing supporting Guardian and Observer) very pro GMC. To this day, I cannot understand how such a split arose that liberal even mildly socialist organs can be pro corporate industrial institutional negligence but, hey, who am I to know?
BBC ‘s Panorama went to town and had a double bill – first a long programme of investigative journalism, fronted by one Sarah Barclay, and then a room full of discussants to chew through the issues to establish where the truth lay. You know the sort of thing. The sort of programme which airs the issues, has lots of sound, fury and fisticuffs where possible, and lets you make your own mind up.
Oh, I’ve got so many papers, letters, video-tapes about this event, some of which must be included here. But the essence is still quite simple.
The programme started with the dramatic tragedy of a boy, then aged about seventeen and bedridden with practically no use of any of his five senses, doomed to die soon when he should have been approaching his prime fitness and ability. He had Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, SSPE.
With such sorrow and sympathy in her voice, Sarah interviewed his father, who went through their story as any distraught parent would. He took us back to the child’s infancy.
“One day we took him on a bus journey and he caught measles from a little girl who was also on the bus. He became ill but, after two weeks, he got completely better, and we thought no more of it. He hadn’t had a measles jab as he wasn’t quite due for it but he’d had all his other vaccinations.”
The story went on: “He had a normal, active childhood until, suddenly, when he was eleven, he started to become lethargic and unable to even go to school, let alone play sports. Soon he found it hard to even get out of bed and eventually he was diagnosed to have developed SSPE, which is always fatal. We are now resigned to this and manage his life as best we can.”
“But what we cannot manage is the fact that he was able to catch measles at all. You see, his terrible condition is a result of his suffering a measles infection when he was an infant [About 15 months old it seems]. You see, the measles virus lodged in his system and later remerged to cause this terrible illness. I’ve read all the evidence and discussed the subject with medical doctors. If that little girl had been vaccinated then my child would not have caught measles and so would never have developed SSPE.”
And so the story ended. Measles, our Sarah summed up, was not just a childhood illness, that could kill and damage you at the time of infection but, even after a full recovery it lurks within your body, like a biological Sword of Damocles, and can come back to decimate you in later life. Such a dreadful scourge must surely be eliminated.
The programme then became routine and went by and large objectively through the Saga of Andy Wakefield, giving him and his supporters space as well as his opponents. The subsequent studio discussion was full of hatred and dissent. No, really, if looks could have killed many would not have left the studio alive. But that’s for another write-up.
As I recorded the programme I was able to re-view it. The SSPE tale had bothered me. It was a direct threat to those who did not vaccinate. It was a declaration of war.
There was family video of the child. At nine and ten he was “Fine” but at ten he was changed. He wore glasses. At the end of the programme was his father’s web-site “Set up to publicise the story and warn others of the dangers of catching measles.”
I went there and read it up. Then emailed his dad.
” Did his child ever have the MMR jab?”
” Well yes he did – when he was nine years old he was given the booster jab but I’m quite sure this has no connection to his developing SSPE. Quite sure – it’s a parent thing, you know. And the doctors agree”.
A year later his sight had deteriorated significantly. Eighteen months later this was becoming SSPE.
So I tracked down Sarah Barclay. “Did you know this? In a programme to discuss outcomes of the MMR jab can you not accept that this is profoundly significant evidence.”
“Well, yes we did know this but our consultants agreed that it was not pertinent to the issue.”
“And still could you not have been just a little bit objective in your coverage?”
“I refuse to discuss this case any more”.
And there it rested until I found an opportunity to put it to a Radio Four Media programme on all the coverage of the MMR story. The editor was very keen and convinced but, as time came for airing, the story was dropped. Again, I will try to publish the fuller record later – it’s very telling and so very worth telling.
SSPE first appeared in the medical literature after the second world war. It was a vanishingly rare condition and essentially of academic rather than clinical interest. By the early sixties there had been more cases and a few papers written with conjectures as to its causation. Later in the decade a measles relationship had been mentioned but numbers of sufferers only started to rise in the seventies. As the numbers of vaccines dramatically increased in the following decades so have the cases of SSPE. There has even been published the odd comment that it could sometimes be triggered by a jab, but probably following natural infection.
Again it’s so difficult to research and be in objective and anywhere near total control of the facts but there is evidence of the discovery of measles viral genetic material in brain post mortem analysis. Vaccine derived I suspect but have seen no published confirmation of this, although such material has been found in gut epithelial tissue of autistic patients and not in normal control groups.
Panorama’s child was naturally immune to measles, after his childhood infection but his immune defences were otherwise damaged, having received a full range of other childhood jabs – DPT, meningitis, etc etc. Upon challenge by the MMR his body reacted badly, maybe due to interaction with his inherent measles immunity, leading inevitably to total disfunction. No MMR and I’m confident no SSPE although other more long term vaccine damage might have developed – allergies, asthma and so on.
But to have suggested this would have broken the boundaries of Sarah’s remit. As an investigative reporter she presents with great confidence that which she’s provided with and instructed she’s allowed to say. No more, no less and so easy to believe. Until you start to check even her basic assertions – after which it’s hard to believe a word she says.
Which is, of course, where the whole BBC is these days.