Controversial MMR Vaccine Study Retracted

If you have children, or just know someone who does, you might already be familiar with the  1998 paper published in The Lancet that showed that the MMR vaccine can cause autism in children.

The MMR vaccine protects against three childhood diseases: measles, mumps, and rubella. Generally required before a child can enter school, the vaccine is delivered first at 12 to 15 months old and then again at around five years old, or before entering school.

Autism is a developmental disorder that is usually diagnosed in toddlers. Characteristics of the disease include impaired communication skills and impaired social interaction skills.

The controversial study, led by British physician Andrew Wakefield and co-authored by 12 others, strongly suggested a link between the vaccine and autism. This report produced a flurry of media attention and parental concern. Vaccination rates plummeted, cases of measles increased, and more than 5,300 lawsuits were filed in the United States by parents who believed that the MMR vaccine might have caused their children’s autism. The lawsuits were later thrown out due to a lack of evidence.

Despite Dr. Wakefield’s claims, scientific authorities around the world continue to disagree with his findings. At least 25 studies have been published since Dr. Wakefield’s that refute his findings and several independent experts could not reproduce the findings from the Wakefield study.

In addition, the Wakefield study was, at best, flawed. In particular, it only included 12 children, nine of which were already diagnosed as being autistic. In addition, 8 of the children’s parents already believed that the MMR vaccine caused their son’s or daughter’s mental disability. The study also did not use a control group. The study also proposed a link between the timing of the MMR vaccine with the onset of autism. However, the study did not address two issues: that the timing of the vaccine is around the time that autism is commonly diagnosed anyway, so the association might be purely coincidental, and  that in several of the children, the symptoms of autism pre-dated the vaccination.

Since the paper’s release, ten of the thirteen authors have retracted the findings. Only Dr. Wakefield and one other author continue to support the study.

We are also learning that Dr. Wakefield might have had ulterior motives. Some reports show that he received major funding from lawyers seeking evidence against vaccine manufacturers. In addition, Dr. Wakefield had previously filed for a patent for a rival vaccine that used technology that lacked scientific evidence.  Finally, records show that he knew but did not publish test results that contradicted his theory.

On February 2, 2010, The Lancet issued a full retraction. According to BBC News, The Lancet conceded that “the research was fundamentally flawed due to a lack of ethical approval and the way the children’s illnesses were presented.”

According to a 2008 JAMA report, cases of measles in the United States were up 48% to the highest level since 1996.


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2 Comments on “Controversial MMR Vaccine Study Retracted”

  1. sweets Says:

    Makes for some interesting reading… I guess despite being aware of this study I still would have had my baby vaccinated. I believe we do ours at about 9 months, and currently we also have a measles outbreak, with the government planning a campaign shortly I believe.. I have been following your blog for a little while now, having recently had a baby.. Actually just took him for vaccines today (not the MMR yet…) – not a fun experience at all!

  2. nici Says:

    I’m with you. I planned to give my baby the vaccines despite all of the hype. This story just made it all the more obvious to me that I should do so.

    We keep hearing about measles outbreaks here in the US, too, along with Whooping Cough and other childhood ailments that were seemingly killed off by vaccines.

    The experts seem to think it is happening because more parents are skipping the vaccines for their children. All the more reason to make sure my child gets all of his or her shots!

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