Retracted autism study an ‘elaborate fraud’

A now-retracted study linking autism to vaccine was an “elaborate fraud,” concludes an investigation published by BMJ, a British medical journal.

The study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, “misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study,” charges investigator Brian Deer. Of the 12 cases in Wakefield’s paper, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR vaccine and three never had autism, said Fiona Godlee, the journal’s editor.

Wakefield received $674,000 from lawyers hoping to sue vaccine manufacturers, BMJ reports.  He also hoped to make money from  diagnostic and other tests for autism and MMR-related issues, said Godlee.

Wakefield was stripped of his medical license earlier this year.

“Meanwhile, the damage to public health continues, fueled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals and the medical profession,” BMJ states.

The now-discredited paper panicked many parents and led to a sharp drop in the number of children getting the vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccination rates dropped sharply in Britain after its publication, falling as low as 80 percent by 2004. Measles cases have gone up sharply in the ensuing years.

Measles cases are up in the U.S. as well, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 90 percent of those infected had not been vaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown.

“But perhaps as important as the scare’s effect on infectious disease is the energy, emotion and money that have been diverted away from efforts to understand the real causes of autism and how to help children and families who live with it,” the BMJ editorial states.

Evidence of fraud isn’t likely to change the minds of true believers. The damage continues.

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  1. The anti-vaccine folks that I know have long ago moved on to new reasons to not vaccinate. I can’t imagine this will have any effect on the true believers.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    I know a couple of folks who would have avoided vaccination for their kids but this fad came along too late.
    I am not sure what the mix is, but part of it looks very, very much as if the Right Sort of People don’t vaccinate their kids. It’s kind of like making sure everybody knows you shop at Whole Paycheck Foods.
    That makes rationalizing the irrational a bit easier, I expect.

  3. Sharon R. says:

    My good friend has a young son with leukemia (thankfully the treatment, while miserable, is working well). Just the other day someone had the gall to include her in a mass email along the lines of “Everyone please make sure you don’t get the flu shot and don’t give it to your kids”. She couldn’t quite bring herself (mostly because she was crying with rage at the time) to write back with “Thank you for encouraging everyone to try to kill my child.” The only thing protecting kids with compromised immune systems is herd protection from vaccination, which over-educated well-off white people are voluntarily giving up. Do I take this personally? Yes. My own (vaccinated!) son got whooping cough last spring and coughed and was lethargic for 3 months (that’s a *mild* case of pertussis). My toddler daughter is on antibiotics now in case that’s what’s causing her worsening cough – she’s vaccinated and will be ok either way, but if she’s carrying it, she could be sickening or killing someone else’s unprotected child or infant. Welcome back to the 1950’s in California! (Sorry for the rant!)

  4. Cardinal Fang says:

    Herd protection also protects little babies who are too young to be vaccinated. Whooping cough (pertussis) is grave, and sometimes deadly, in tiny babies. Ten babies died of whooping cough last year in California.

  5. Many of the measles clusters in the U.S. have been in churches where the objection to the MMR vaccine is not a purported link to autism, but the fact that the vaccine was derived from abortion-tainted stem cell lines. There’s a big debate in the pro-Life community on the ethics of using vaccines created from abortion-tainted lines. I have personally decided that the risk to current unborn babies of forgoing the vaccine outweighs the problem I have with how the stem cell line was originally created. But I can certainly understand where another family might decide to boycott the shot altogether.

    The solution is simple IMHO: manufacture a vaccine from a stem cell line free of the abortion taint. That way there can be no objection to vaccination on pro-Life grounds.

  6. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Everybody is a genius after the fact, and no one knows so much of what will happen in the Super Bowl as the one who knew what would happen after he’s seen it.

    But nevertheless, I called this when I was in law school back in 2000. It was obvious bulls***.

  7. That does not address my objection that with a sample size of twelve the results are not statistically significant. With such a small sample size you can by chance get any result. You can just as easily get a positive result or a null result independent of what the actual effects
    are. In other words the result are meaningless. This is not the way to do scientific research.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    The accusation is that the conclusion was not the result of chance in a small sample size, but the result of deliberate deception in the sample.

  9. ” am not sure what the mix is, but part of it looks very, very much as if the Right Sort of People don’t vaccinate their kids. It’s kind of like making sure everybody knows you shop at Whole Paycheck Foods.”

    Right wing wackos don’t shop at Whole Foods. Nor do the vaccinate their kids, since they don’t trust the government. That’s your big anti-vaccine demographic.

  10. I think for me that the telling point is that since I got the Tdap booster shot (when you go in for your tetanus booster…which EVERYONE should be doing, tetanus is an ugly disease), I found that they were giving an adult pertussis booster. Since then, I’ve not gotten the ugly horrible hacking cough that I usually get at work (I teach in a K-8 building).

    Makes me wonder.

    And as the parent of a high-functioning autistic, I never felt that vaccines were a factor. Genetics, yes. Vaccines, no.

  11. Cranberry says:

    “Right wing wackos don’t shop at Whole Foods. Nor do the vaccinate their kids, since they don’t trust the government. That’s your big anti-vaccine demographic.”

    Do you have any proof for that? At all?

    That doesn’t match figures from the CDC. It’s intriguing to flip back and forth between these two maps:

  12. I have family in two different areas that fit the “Right Sort of People who shop at Whole Paycheck Foods” pattern and they are very unhappy about the number of people they know who don’t have their kids immunized (the autism scare is usually identified as part of the reason), especially since their (immunized) kids perforce interact with those kids at school. I also have family in another area which has some of the same demographic but also has a large fraction of the population that is very concerned with the “organic”, the “natural” etc, which rejects vaccines as unnatural. The two categories do overlap, of course.

  13. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Hey! I’m a right-wing whacko (so I’ve been told) and I shop at Whole Foods.

    It’s the only place I can get the Amazake Almond Shakes.

  14. For every Right-wing anti-government whacko that prevents their children from being vaccinated there is a Left-wing Birkenstock-wearing treehugger that does the same. It has less to do with political leaning and more to do with an inability to think for themselves, which is an equal opportunity idiocy.

  15. We’ve had several pertussis cases in our building. At the moment, there are 7 teachers who go home to infants under 1 year, a couple to infants under 6 months.

  16. Richard Aubrey says:

    Jeez, Lightly. That sounds like an incipient tragedy.