By Elaine Magliaro
It all began in the year 1998 when a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield and eleven other co-authors published a study titled Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children in The Lancet. The study “sparked widespread hysteria” about there being a possible link between the mumps-measles-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Stav Ziv (Newsweek) wrote the following about the study that set the “MMR-autism dominoes tumbling…”: It provided case histories for 12 children, exploring incidences of chronic enterocolitis, inflammatory bowel disease and regressive developmental disorder—as well as immunization with the MMR vaccine. “In eight children, the onset of behavioral problems had been linked, either by the parents or by the child’s physician, with measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination,” the authors wrote.
In February 2010, Steve Novella (Science-Based Medicine) wrote that the study had not stood the test of time. Novella said that the results couldn’t be replicated by other labs. He said that a decade of subsequent research had “sufficiently cleared the MMR vaccine of any connection to ASD.” Novella added that the lab that had been used “to search for measles virus in the guts of the study subjects” had “been shown to have used flawed techniques, resulting in false positives.” There reportedly did not “appear to be any association between autism and a GI disorder.” The Lancet has retracted Wakefield’s paper.
Julia Belluz (Vox) said that investigators described Dr. Wakefiled’s research as an “elaborate fraud.” Wakefield was stripped of his medical license. In January of 2011, CNN reported that an investigation that was published by the British medical journal BMJ had concluded that Dr. Wakefield had “misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was ‘no doubt’ Wakefield was responsible.”
Fiona Godlee, the editor-in-chief of BJM, told CNN, “It’s one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors. But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data.”
As Novella noted in his article—“it’s OK to be wrong in science.” He said, “There is no expectation that every potential finding will turn out to be true – in fact it is expected that most new findings will eventually be found to be false. That’s the nature of investigating the unknown. No harm no foul.” It appears, however, that there WAS “foul” play on the part of Wakefield.
An investigation conducted by the General Medical Council concluded that the British doctor had acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” in doing his research. It appears, too, that his fraudulent research may have caused harm to thousands of children and to the public health in his country and other countries—including the United States—because some parents aren’t having/haven’t had their children inoculated with the MMR vaccine for fear that their children might get autism.
Belluz provided some information about Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his retracted study in her Vox aticle:
- To begin with, Wakefield’s association between the MMR vaccine and autism was based on a case report involving only 12 children. “Case reports” are detailed stories about particular patients’ medical histories. And — because they are basically just stories — they are considered among weakest kinds of medical studies.
- A British investigative journalist, Brian Deer, followed up with the families of each of the 12 kids in the study. He concluded, “No case was free of misreporting or alteration.” In other words, Andrew Wakefield, lead author of the original report, manipulated his data.
In The British Medical Journal, Deer spells out exactly what he found, and it’s rather shocking that this study was ever published in the first place. You learn that the parents of many of the kids deny the conclusions in the study; some of the kids who Wakefield suggested were diagnosed with autism actually weren’t; others who Wakefield suggested were “previously normal” actually had pre-existing developmental issues before getting their shots.
- Even more absurdly, when the General Medical Council (the UK’s medical regulator) began to investigate Wakefield, they found that he had paid children at his son’s 10th birthday party to donate their blood for his research. That isn’t exactly a controlled and ethical setting.
- Wakefield also had financial conflicts of interest. Among them, while he was discrediting the combination measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, and suggesting parents should give their children single shots over a longer period of time, he was conveniently filing patents for single-disease vaccines.
5. Wakefield has refused to replicate the paper’s findings
Belluz noted that public-health experts have said “that Wakefield’s false data and erroneous conclusions, while resoundingly rejected in the academic world, still drive some parents’ current worries about the MMR shot.”
In a Newsweek article published yesterday, Stav Ziv said that Andrew Wakefield is a man who “is both revered and reviled.” He added, “To a small group of parents, he’s a hero who won’t back down from his assertion that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine can cause autism.” Ziv said that Wakefield “dismisses the notion that he bears any responsibility” for the current Measles outbreak. Wakefield said, “The people who put the blame on me are really just displacing their inadequacy on others.” Ziv said Wakefield pointed out “that his now infamous study never asserted a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism.” Wakefield added, “We merely reported the parent’s description of what happened to their children, and the clinical findings. We made no claims about the vaccine causing autism. In fact, we said this does not prove an association. And all we urged was further research.” The authors of the paper wrote at the time, “We did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described.”
However, during a press conference two days before the paper’s publication, Wakefield was already pushing for the use of separate vaccines over the combined MMR. “With the debate over MMR that has started,” he said then, “I cannot support the continued use of the three vaccines given together. We need to know what the role of gut inflammation is in autism…. My concerns are that one more case of this is too many.” Asked recently whether he still believes the MMR vaccine causes autism, Wakefield responded unequivocally. “Yes, I do. I think MMR contributes to the current autism epidemic.”
For years, Wakefield has repeatedly stated his opinion that the risk lies with the MMR vaccine—not single vaccines. “MMR does not protect against measles,” he says. “Measles vaccine protects against measles.” He argues that the reason we are seeing more cases is because the U.K. and U.S. governments took the single vaccines off the market, leaving the MMR as the only option—and that, increasingly, parents reject that option.
Do you think that Anrew Wakefield bears any responsibility for the current outbreak of Measles in this country? Do you think he is right about the MMR vaccine and autism?
MMR Vaccine & Autism (American Academy of Pediatrics)
The Lancet retracts Andrew Wakefield’s article (Science-Based Medicine)
Measles Outbreak for the First Time (Newsweek)