A surprising number of people are convinced vaccinations lead to autism, despite this being, you know, debunked. To a lot of anti-vaccination folks, a paper published in the medical journal Lancet in 1998 is the scientific basis for their beliefs. Now the British medical journal BMJ reports that the study has been found to be an out-and-out fraud. Not wrong. Not misguided. An actual fraud.
The first study to link a childhood vaccine to autism was based on doctored information about the children involved, according to a new report on the widely discredited research.
The conclusions of the 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues was renounced by 10 of its 13 authors and later retracted by the medical journal Lancet, where it was published. Still, the suggestion the MMR shot was connected to autism spooked parents worldwide and immunization rates for measles, mumps and rubella have never fully recovered.
A new examination found, by comparing the reported diagnoses in the paper to hospital records, that Wakefield and colleagues altered facts about patients in their study.
At least there’s no consequence to this, no health risk caused by people who have refused to have their children vaccinated, right?
But measles has surged since Wakefield’s paper was published and there are sporadic outbreaks in Europe and the U.S. In 2008, measles was deemed endemic in England and Wales.
Right. That. As the accompanying editorial notes, “the damage to public health continues.”
Last February, the journal Lancet retracted the paper. Wakefield e-mailed the L.A. Times, saying: “The allegations against me and my colleagues are both unfounded and unjust and I invite anyone to examine the contents of these proceedings and come to their own conclusion. In fact, the Lancet paper does not claim to confirm a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Research into that possible connection is still ongoing.” The paper doesn’t “claim to confirm” anything, but it clearly suggests such a link.
The anti-vaccination crowd gained a lot of prominence due to celebrity advocates like Jenny McCarthy, who is probably best known nowadays for her anti-vaccination message (which she promulgated on Oprah’s show). In case you’re wondering, McCarthy and then-boyfriend Jim Carrey had this to say about the retraction last February: “Dr. Andrew Wakefield is being discredited to prevent an historic study from being published that for the first time looks at vaccinated versus unvaccinated primates and compares health outcomes, with potentially devastating consequences for vaccine makers and public health officials.” The energy and attention devoted towards this only helps the cause of anti-vaccination folks, spreading a message that has been debunked to a populace that still might listen, though obviously fradulent research needs to be corrected.
So, once again, to date there has been no link found between vaccinations and autism. However, there is still a link between not getting vaccinated and contracting preventable diseases.