Vaccine-autism debate coming to La Crosse

16 hours ago  •  By PATRICK B. ANDERSON |

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Two of the most prominent figures in the debate over whether vaccines contribute to autism are coming to La Crosse.

Andrew Wakefield, the English doctor who championed the now-dismissed link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and the onset of autism, and Brian Deer, the newspaper reporter who showed how the study’s findings were manipulated and embellished, will speak Thursday.

The appearances are already sparking controversy.

It started when University of Wisconsin-La Crosse biology faculty invited Deer to present as part of a yearly life sciences lecture series.

“We’re just a bunch of geeky scientists,” said Michael Winfrey, UW-L microbiology professor. “But this is getting all this publicity.”

Deer’s reporting  in the Sunday Times of London upended findings of a 1998 publication that linked the MMR vaccine with autism — findings since denounced by medical experts and the British journal that printed the report.

Neither Deer nor Wakefield could be immediately reached for comment Friday.

United Kingdom officials stripped Wakefield of his medical license, but he has since moved to the United States and maintains a groundswell of support from those who continue to believe his assertions.

“The way we see it, an innocent man has been accused wrongly and falsely,” said Patti Carroll, a volunteer for the Dr. Wakefield Justice Fund.

The group organized a response when it heard about Deer’s presentation at UW-L, Carroll said.

Carroll stopped vaccinating her children when her son fell ill after receiving a vaccine and developed autism months later, she said.

“If Brian Deer is going to come to America and start trying to sell his story, people have a right to ask questions of the person he is accusing,” Carroll said.

Wakefield is scheduled to speak 1 p.m. at a location yet to be determined.

Deer is scheduled to speak at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and 3:30 p.m. Friday at UW-L’s Centennial Hall.

UW-L faculty invited Deer because they were intrigued by his findings and the landmark effect they had on the health profession, Winfrey said.

“There’s a number of scientific frauds that have been exposed,” Winfrey said.

In seven years of reporting for multiple publications, Deer exposed conflicts of interest Wakefield hid from fellow doctors and questionable practices he used to conduct his research.

UW-L has received several responses since inviting Deer to speak. Winfrey admits Deer’s work is controversial, despite overwhelming support from the scientific community.

“We are a university,” he said. “We value and encourage people to look at both sides of issues and make informed decisions.”

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