On 5th February 1958, Manchester United played away to Red Star in Belgrade. What is remembered is not the match, but the flight home; having stopped to refuel in Munich, the plane crashed on take-off with 23 fatalities and 21 survivors.
Matt Busby, the Manager, survived the accident and ten years later he led a new team of Busby Babes to win the European Cup. Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes survived the crash and played against Benfica in that final.
Why am I telling you about this? The reason is the air crash investigation that followed. It was convenient to blame the pilot, Captain James Thain. The German enquiry blamed him for not deicing the wings and claimed that this ice prevented the plane from taking off, as it reached the end of the runway.
For ten years Thain tried to clear his name and insisted there had been no ice on the wings and that a deep layer of water and slush on the runway caused the accident. Finally, Harold Wilson, the then British Prime Minister, backed his call for a new investigation. At that second inquiry, it was shown that Thain had been right all along. The wings were not iced up, but the runway had not been properly cleaned and the crash was inevitable. The plane could not gather enough speed to take off and crashed into a house at the end of the runway.
Thain had been a convenient scapegoat and died aged 54, the 24th victim of the crash.
The truth did come out in the end and it was recently the subject of an excellent documentary by National Geographic.
Do vaccines cause autism?
I was surprised last week when my mother, a retired doctor, asked whether I thought the MMR vaccination caused autism . My reply was along the lines of “maybe sometimes, but we will never know”. A year ago, I would have simply said “of course not”.
Monty, autistic and aged 9, also flies from Belgrade to London, and sometimes via Munich. Planes have got much bigger and safer and airports are much better prepared for bad weather. Flying will always have a risk and all drugs have an element of risk; so naturally vaccines also have a risk.
From a public health perspective, it is clear that vaccines save millions of lives and so any risk is vastly outweighed by the overall benefit.
If you were Bill Gates, who is nobly trying to eradicate polio from the planet (he now has the added problem of the Taliban killing the vaccination teams in Pakistan), what would you say about Andrew Wakefield and his linking of autism to vaccines?
Not surprisingly he gets referred to as a fraud and that his research was rigged and that later research proved him wrong. Now can we get back to eradicating polio!
In the big picture Bill is definitely right; Andrew Wakefield may also be right, but will he ever get a fair chance to prove it? Captain James Thain waited ten years, I think Andrew Wakefield will need to wait much longer.
It sounds highly plausible that injecting a combination of vaccines preserved in a solution with mercury (the mercury has now replaced by a much larger amount of aluminium) might cause an adverse reaction in the brains of a small number of subjects; perhaps ones with a slightly permeable blood brain barrier (BBB). Rather than trash this hypothesis, it would have been better to fully investigate it and perhaps develop safer vaccines. As in Munich, there has been an investigation, but I was rather shocked reading comments of researchers familiar with those studies.
I would agree with Bill that Andrew Wakefield could be seen as a danger to public health, but what if he is also right. Does it matter? If you are touched by autism, then yes; otherwise probably not.
Back to Spock
I mentioned a few posts ago that I had been to see the latest Star Trek movie with Ted, aged 12, and his friend Adrian “Mole”.
While saving a planet, but endangering the Starship Enterprise, Spock commented that “the interests of the many outweigh the interests of the few”. Bill would concur, and so would Peter.
The conclusion is that if you are one of the few, you are on your own. Do not wait for the Enterprise, or anyone else, to help you. Help yourself.
I have no idea whether Andrew Wakefield is right, but at least on my blog he gets a chance to present his case. Here he is responding to a recent measles outbreak in South Wales.