Oregon legislators have canceled a meeting to discuss a bill that would eliminate nonmedical exemptions from Oregon's school immunization law, after it became clear that a controversial vaccine researcher who linked the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine with autism was planning to testify.
The Statesman Journal reported Tuesday that Andrew Wakefield, whose 1998 study was retracted from The Lancet and refuted by subsequent studies, was planning a trip to Salem to testify against Senate Bill 442.
He said in a phone interview on Wednesday that he objected to allegations made by Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, the bill's sponsor, that he committed scientific fraud in his research.
Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, chairwoman of the Senate health care committee, said she canceled the March 9 informational meeting because she felt the first public hearing, on Feb. 18, provided enough information.
"I talked with caucus and we're ready to have a work session and we don't need to have the information and that's the decision that I made," the Gresham Democrat said.
Monnes Anderson said her decision did not have anything to do with Wakefield's intentions to testify.
The March 9 meeting will only take invited testimony from constitutional law experts who will weigh in on the legality of SB 442, she said. During a work session, committee members can tweak the bill as well as vote on it.
Wakefield said his visit was requested by the Oregon Chiropractic Association. He said he planned to testify on vaccine safety, questionable science as well as ethical issues in the government and pharmaceutical companies that manufacture vaccines.
However, now that the meeting has been canceled, he still wants to hold a town hall meeting in Portland, he said.
The Lancet, the journal that published Wakefield's original research, retracted his paper and his medical license was revoked. An investigation by the BMJ, formerly British Medical Journal, concluded that Wakefield's study was unethically funded and fraudulent.
Wakefield still stands by his research, based on 12 children, and he has many followers who remain skeptical about vaccines' safety.
He said the combination of the MMR vaccine could alter a child's immune system and intestines, and in turn harm neurons in the brain. Wakefield believes parents should have the option of separating the vaccines.
"There was no fraud at any stage," Wakefield said. "I've never been involved in scientific fraud. The notion that I admitted to fraud is absolutely extraordinary.
"If that's the quality of information informing the Oregon Senate and the people of Oregon, they're being very badly served."
Steiner Hayward, a family physician, declined through a staffer to be interviewed for this story, saying she was unavailable.
Her bill has bipartisan support among physician legislators, who argue that vaccines are safe, effective and have no links to autism. Wakefield's study sparked a series of studies on the MMR vaccine that showed no connection with the onset of autism.
The bill also has the support of Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon Medical Association, Providence Health & Services, as well as The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia via its vaccine education center director Dr. Paul Offit.
It is also passionately opposed by parents who say their children were injured by vaccines, are skeptical of the efficacy and safety of the vaccine schedule and want to preserve parental autonomy.
Wakefield said the dialogue should not be framed solely as a pro- or anti-vaccine debate.
"It's not about that," Wakefield said. "It's about making the safest, most effective vaccination policy – protecting children from serious infectious disease. That's what this is about."