The old line about a lie traveling halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on certainly applies to the supposed link between autism and the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine-- in spades.
Aaron Carroll, the pediatrician and medical policy expert who pointed us toward the map of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks we reported on Monday, delivers the indispensable background on the autism-MMR link in this video. For its clarity and directness, it’s a must-see.
As Carroll reports, the supposed link dates back to an article published in 1998 in the British medical journal the Lancet. “This was not a randomized control trial or even a scientific study,” he notes. “It was merely a description of a small group of children” -- 12 children, of whom nine were said by their parents to show signs of autism. Eight of that group were said to have first shown the symptoms shortly after receiving the vaccine.
That study has become one of the most famous scientific papers ever published in Britain, and not in a good way. It’s been retracted by the Lancet, 10 of its 12 authors have disavowed its findings, and the lead author, Andrew Wakefield, has been stripped of his medical license.
The British Medical Journal in 2011 documented how Wakefield systematically falsified the data about his subjects to fabricate an association between the vaccine and autism. The goal? To help a group that hoped to profit by suing the vaccine makers. The paper was “fatally flawed both scientifically and ethically,” the BMJ stated.
Yet the paper lives on in its influence over impressionable parents. Its impact on vaccination rates in Britain was enormous. Rates there have begun to creep up since they began sliding in the aftermath of the Lancet report, but “they are still below the 95% level recommended by the World Health Organization to ensure herd immunity,” the BMJ reported. “In 2008, for the first time in 14 years, measles was declared endemic in England and Wales. Hundreds of thousands of children in the U.K. are currently unprotected as a result of the scare, and the battle to restore parents’ trust in the vaccine is ongoing."
In the U.S., the carriers of the anti-vaccine virus include the media figure Jenny McCarthy. Wakefield is stil lionized in this country by promoters of the supposed link.
As Carroll reports, one result of the Wakefield paper was a surge in scientific controlled investigations of the MMR-autism link. These studies, some of which involved as many as 500,000 children, have consistently found no association whatsoever.
“I think it’s likely that children have not been given an MMR vaccine because of this fraud,” Carroll says. “It’s likely that children have gotten sick because of this fraud. It’s likely that some children have died.”
Parents doubting whether to inoculate their children against illnesses that threaten not only their childrens’ health but that of the community need to know that their doubts are based on the work of quacks.