Lancet paper children were all litigants - and 7 admitted before ethical approval

This page is research from an investigation by Brian Deer for the UK's Channel 4 Television and The Sunday Times of London into a campaign linking the MMR children's vaccine with autism. | Go to part I: The Lancet scandal | Go to part II: The Wakefield factor

Andrew Wakefield started the scare in 1998, reporting on 12 children. But his research had begun as a contract with lawyers, and was packed with undisclosed litigants hoping to get money from MMR's makers. He later admitted that five of the kids were named on a list supplied by the lawyer with that contract. Legal aid numbers below suggest that, at the date of publication in the Lancet, ten children were litigants - a figure that later rose to 11 as the work turned into a vast fishing expedition for lawsuit claimants

Claimant child
Company sued
[Legal aid number]
Date admitted to RFH
William Kessick
2 September 1996
Aventis Pasteur
9 September 1996
Nathan Baugh
15 September 1996
15 September 1996
Michael Thomas
27 October 1996
17 November 1996
1 December 1996

<- Ethical approval given for a study on 18 December 1996 ->

Matthew Poulter
5 January 1997
20 January 1997
Michael S
16 February 1997
Aaron Baugh
20 April 1997
Notes: Dr Michael Pegg, chair of the Royal Free hospital's ethics committee wrote to the study's chief clinician, Professor John Walker-Smith, in a formal letter dated 7th January 1997: "Only patients enrolled after the date of the December meeting will be considered to be in the trial." This undertaking was given by Walker-Smith, copied to Wakefield, and then not honoured. Dr Wakefield denies receiving this letter.

Such a stipulation is common in the ethical supervision of human research. What would have happened to the results if it had been honoured is hard to guess, but it seems that the appearance of a link between MMR and autism would have been fatally undermined. Some idea of this consequence may be gleaned from charts at this site, based on what is publicly known about what parents allegedly claimed.

The order of admission given above is not the same as the order in which these children appear numbered in the Lancet paper, but why isn't clear.

Only 11 of the 12 children are shown above. The twelfth was American and not entitled to sue in the UK. In the public interest, some children's full names are disclosed. Family names have been withheld where parents have not, to Brian Deer's knowledge, previously presented their children for media consumption.

Legal aid certificates may be issued months, and even years, after a lawyer-client relationship commences under the UK legal aid scheme. Therefore, the certificates above (which in all but one later case begin with the date of the year of issue) are not the dates at which the children first became clients.

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