Autism and Vaccines: Scaring Parents for Fun and Profit

For the past 12 years a former physician from England, Andrew Wakefield has been on a campaign to convince parents that there is a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism. The vaccine is normally given once at 12 to 15 months, with another dose before entering school (age 4 or 5). In 1998 Wakefield published a study in the British Medical Journal The Lancet claiming that a child who receives the vaccine has an increased risk of developing autism. In the first few years after the article, vaccine rates plummeted as parents of young children suddenly had to worry that they were trading protection against these diseases for a lifetime of autism.

Normally when a study of this importance is published, other scientists attempt to replicate it. This makes sense as anything true should be able to be replicated. But here’s where it started to unravel. Nobody who used Wakefield’s methodology came up with his results. Wakefield, being Wakefield, offered this theory: anyone who disagrees with me must be in the pockets of the drug companies who will lose money if their vaccines are shown to be harmful.

In 2004 Brian Deer, a journalist for the Sunday Times of London found that there’s more to the story than Wakefield is telling.

Wakefield claims this is about money and he’s been targeted by the drug companies. But the truth is very different. Wakefield has received $674,000 from lawyers who represented the parents of children with autism. At this point I strongly recommend that everyone buy and read a book called Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure by Paul Offit, MD. Dr. Offit shows that Wakefield was approached by lawyers who represented parents of children with autism. They were looking for a reason their children had autism and Wakefield began to look for a reason. Simply put, he couldn’t find one so he made one up.

He set to work falsifying the data. The study was conducted on only 12 children and he claimed 8 of them developed autism shortly after receiving the vaccine. Of the 12, it has since been shown that 5 of them showed symptoms of autism before the vaccine, and three of them never had autism. When these facts came out 10 of the coauthors on the study had their names removed. In February of 2010 the Lancet retracted the article and three months later Andrew Wakefield’s medical license was revoked. He now lives in the United States but does not have a license to practice medicine here.

There is an excellent CNN article on this. The British Journal BMJ has an article that claims this was not just bad science or histrionics, it is fraud.

In short, Wakefield was not mistaken or careless, he was fraudulent. He scares parents for fun and profit.

5 thoughts on “Autism and Vaccines: Scaring Parents for Fun and Profit

  1. Thanks for this but I believe you are mistaken about the thimerosal.

    The MMR vaccine never had thimerosal. Wakefield had nothing to do with the US decision to remove thimerosal from vaccines. The thimerosal saga started in 1997, with a rider attached to a FDA reauthorization bill authored by New Jersey congressman Frank Pallone, and picked up steam in mid-summer, 1999, when Neal Halsey MD became concerned. I urge your readers to study Paul Offit MD’s Autism False Prophets, which details the chain of events in the decision to remove thimerosal from pediatric vaccines.

  2. My thanks to Liz. I had a section talking about the preservative thimerisol that was incorrect; I don’t have Paul Offit’s book with me and was relying on my (faulty) memory.

    Liz is right: you should read the book.

  3. You’re welcome. I’ve gotten more response on this than any post I’ve done. Maybe I should keep writing on autism. By the way, there’s an excellent article that argues that Wakefield should be prosecuted in criminal court.

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