Last February I posted about how an international medical journal, The Lancet, had retracted the 1998 study led by Dr. Wakefield linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (the MMR) with the development of autism in children. It was said that the study should have never been published in the first place because it did not hold up to scientific scrutiny. Yet there were many parents all over the world who believed Wakefield’s study and refused to vaccinate their children. Recent developments in this case portray more than just a poorly designed study. CNN reports that Dr. Wakefield is now being accused of falsifying data and deliberate fraud.
In May of 2010 Dr. Wakefield was stripped of his medical license and was barred from practicing in the United Kingdom. The British medical journal BMJ, published the results of an investigation into the validity of Dr. Wakefield’s research. What they found was that Wakefield had altered the medical histories of all 12 subjects included in his study. Some of the subjects may have been recruited by anti-vaccine activists. According to the BMJ investigators, Wakefield developed his hypothesis about a causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism only after he had been retained with compensation to work on a lawsuit to sue the vaccine manufacturer.
As the parent of an autistic child, does this news surprise me?
Quite frankly, no it does not. I have witnessed the vaccine controversy from the beginning when I joined on-line support groups for parents of children diagnosed with autism. Two camps developed within any autism community: Those who believed that vaccines caused their child’s autism and those who did not. It became a topic much like discussing religion or politics. One could quickly make an enemy by simply stating an opinion either way. Being surrounded by conspiracy theorists and an agenda of blame took away from discussions about how to actually help our children in the day to day. It also sucked attention away from support into efforts of getting others to join the anti-vaccination bandwagon. I began to steer away from on-line support groups because it seemed all anybody wanted to talk about was the vaccination controversy.
At first the vaccination conspiracy theories were contained to the autism world but then the fear was translated to the mainstream. I remember the day my next door neighbor asked me in all sincerity whether I felt the vaccines caused my son’s autism. She was so fearful herself of the possible link that she was reluctant to get her young son vaccinated. My neighbor was surprised when I said that I did not believe that the vaccinations caused my son’s autism. I would have to repeat this to many people over the years who looked at me incredulously as though this hypothesized link was fact.
What has always amazed me about this on-going debate is that the preponderance of proof rested upon one study using only 12 subjects. The rest of it was promotion. Celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, for example, have been instrumental in spreading the idea that there is a causal link between vaccines and autism. McCarthy, who is a co-founder of the non-profit organization, Generation Rescue, has been extremely vocal in perpetuating the vaccination controversy through her books, media appearances, and newsletter. Curiously I did not sign up for her newsletter but somehow they find you if you are a parent of a child with autism and I was bombarded with anti-vaccination literature in my in-box. I have always wanted to write back. Jenny, my son does not need to be rescued by you or your organization. My son has autism and I accept this fact. I do not believe that a vaccination caused my son’s autism. But what would be the use? There are some people who will cling to this theory despite all the evidence which shows otherwise.