Have you hesitated for even just a second to vaccinate your child due to the possible vaccine autism connection?
You’re not alone!
In 1998, the respectable medical journal The Lancet published a scary report showing a connection between measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination of toddlers and autism. Parents all over world, myself included, became very uncertain whether to really vaccinate our children or not.
Well, it was all hoax! In May 2010, the doctors who carried out the study were erased from the medical register in UK due to serious professional misconduct and hence are not allowed to work as doctors anymore in UK.
On January 5 2011, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published the whole story explaining how this bogus study was carried out and why. Read all about it here.
The Vaccine Autism Scam Unwinded
What the study claimed
Back in 1998, Dr Wakefield published a very worrying study in the Lancet: In 8 out 12 children, onset of behavioral symptoms was associated, by the parents, with MMR vaccination. 8 out of 12 – that is 66%!
It was claimed that all these children were normal before vaccination and that the symptoms had started to occur within a couple of weeks after vaccination. A strong link that caused massive concern in the UK and the rest of the world as the information spread. The inoculation rate for MMR dropped in many countries. In the UK it was 92%; after publication, the rate dropped to below 80%. In Sweden the rate dropped from 97% to 88%.
Due to the reduced vaccination rates, onset of measles of course increased, as did deaths due to the disease.
A big pile of bogus data
After the publication of Wakefield’s article, several other researchers did similar studies of the potential link, but noone found any connections between MMR and autism. And for good reasons, it turned out. Wakefield had faked almost all the data behind the study. Already early on, parents of one of children complained that the data for their child was incorrect and that his behavioral problems started before his vaccinations, which wasn’t revealed in the study. And there was more…
Wakefield’s article was a case study of 12 child patients; it reported a proposed “new syndrome” of enterocolitis and regressive autism and associated this with MMR as an “apparent precipitating event”. But as compiled by BMJ:
- 3 of 9 children reported to have regressive autism did not have autism diagnosed at all. Only one child clearly had regressive autism.
- Despite the paper claiming that all 12 children were “previously normal”, five had documented pre-existing developmental concerns.
- Some children were reported to have experienced first behavioral symptoms within days of MMR, but the records documented these as starting some months after vaccination .
- In nine cases, unremarkable colonic histopathology results – noting no or minimal fluctuations in inflammatory cell populations – were changed after a medical school “research review” to “non-specific colitis”.
- The parents of eight children were reported as blaming MMR, but 11 families made this allegation at the hospital. The exclusion of three allegations – all giving times to onset of problems in months – helped to create the appearance of a 14 day temporal link.
- Patients were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners, and the study was commissioned and funded for planned litigation.
As in most cases of fraud, money was involved. It turned out that Wakefield’s study was financed by lawyers interested in bringing lawsuits on behalf of parents who were sure that vaccines caused their children’s autism. The law firm involved paid Wakefield approximately $1 million to undertake his study, a conflict of interest that Wakefield did not disclose.
What happened next
The underlying data of the study, as well as its conclusions were questioned already in the beginning of the millennium. And in 2004, ten of the doctors who co-authored Wakefield’s paper issued a statement disassociating themselves from Wakefield and the conclusions reached in his study. Other studies (find references below), were published, all showing no vaccine autism connection
Still, the conclusions in the study continued to haunt parents around the world, who didn’t really know whether they did put their children at risk by allowing the MMR vaccine.
In May 2010, the two doctors mainly responsible for the study (Dr Andrew Wakefield, and Professor John Walker-Smith) were judged by the General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK to Serious Professional Misconduct and their names were erased from the medical register in UK. This means they are no longer allowed to work as doctors in the UK.
This doesn’t seem to stop Wakefield. He calls the GMC a kangaroo court and defends his original study, claiming independent studies in five countries back his findings, and arguing that the U.S. government has secretly settled with the families of children with autism.
I have been trying to find these studies, but failed. It is possible that they are referenced in Wakefield’s new book; Callous Disregard, in which he defends his theories and findings.
Despite the withdrawal of Wakefield’s medical license, and the hard evidence that the data of his study was fake, there are many parents out there, who really believe that their children’s behavioral problems were triggered by their MMR vaccine. And maybe future research will prove some of them right. But as of today, there is no research to support that conclusion. Autism symptoms may occur as early as by the age of 2 years, although the average age is between 3 or 4. The first MMR shot is usually given at 12-15 months and the second at 4 to 6 years old. Hence the MMR vaccine and the onset of autism may very well correlate, but that doesn’t mean that one causes the other at all.
From what research tells us today, there is a zero% vaccine autism connection. By not vaccinating your child, the only thing you do is to put him or her at risk for three serious diseases. And who wants that?
To conclude, I know this is a sensitive topic for some people. Parents to children diagosed with autism naturally are looking for reasons. I know I would. The problem is that there is very little if any solid research really supporting the MMR-autism claimed link, but a lot of research that fails to find a link. Wakefield has moved to the US and continues to recommend against MMR and continues – still now in 2013 – to claim that the link is strong. He still hasn’t provided any evidence of it though, as far as I have been able to find.
Do you have any thoughs or experiences to share regarding this debate? Please feel free to share by adding a comment below.
References on the Vaccine Autism Link
- BMJ 2011;342:c5347: How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed. Read the article here.
- Wakefield AJ, Murch SH, Anthony A, Linnell, Casson DM, Malik M, et al. Ileal lymphoid nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet1998;351:637-41 [retracted].
- General Medical Council. Dr Andrew Wakefield: determinations on serious professional misconduct and sanctions. 24 May 2010. Wakefield: www.gmc-uk.org/Wakefield_SPM_and_SANCTION.pdf_32595267.pdf.
- General Medical Council. Professor John Walker-Smith: determinations on serious professional misconduct and sanctions, 24 May 2010. www.gmc-uk.org/Professor_Walker_Smith_SPM.pdf_32595970.pdf.
- U.S. Debunks Autism Myth by Adam Winkler The Daily Beast Read the article here.
- Interview in May 2010 with Andrew Wakefield. Read about the interview here.
- New England Journal Of Medicine 2002; Vol 347, No 19: A Population-based Study of Measles, Mumps and Rubella Vaccination and Autism. This study in Denmark found no connection between MMR vaccination and autism.
- Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 46:6 (2005), pp 572-579: No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study
- BMJ. 2001 February 24; 322(7284): 460-463: Mumps, measles, and rubella vaccine and the incidence of autism recorded by general practitioners: a time trend analysis
- Pediatrics. 2006 Jul;118(1):e139-50. Pervasive developmental disorders in Montreal, Quebec, Canada: prevalence and links with immunizations.