The first study to link a childhood vaccine to autism was based on inaccurate information about the children involved, according to a new report on the widely discredited research.
By comparing the reported diagnoses in the paper with hospital records, fact checkers found that the original study author (Dr. Andrew Wakefield) had altered facts about patients in the study.
What does this mean to parents, children, and childhood vaccinations? Fortunately, we have pediatrician Dr. Garbis Baydar, MD to help us sort it out. "This puts to rest the erroneous idea that vaccinating a child would cause the child to become autistic. From a medical point of view, this was a terrible injustice done to parents and children. The best thing a parent can do for a child is to vaccinate him or her against dangerous childhood diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella," said Dr. Baydar.
The conclusions of the 1998 paper by Dr. Wakefield and his colleagues were renounced by 10 of its 13 authors and later retracted by the medical journal The Lancet, where it was published. Still, the suggestion that the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was connected to autism rattled parents worldwide; immunization rates for the MMR shot have never fully recovered.
Dr. Wakefield's paper said that the 12 children studied were normal until they had the MMR shot. However, 5 had previously documented developmental problems. Fact checkers also found that all the cases were somehow misrepresented when data was compared between medical records and information from the children's parents.
Dr. Wakefield has not commented on this recent analysis, and still asserts that there is a connection between vaccines and autism.
"The medical establishment entirely rejects these ideas," Dr. Baydar tells us. "Harm has been done to children by withholding vaccines from them."
The British Medical Journal, BMJ, published the new analysis of Dr. Wakefield's work. BMJ editor Fiona Godlee and colleagues called Dr. Wakefield's study ''an elaborate fraud.'' They said Dr. Wakefield's work in other journals should be examined to see if it should be retracted.
Last May, Dr. Wakefield (who now lives here in the U.S.) was stripped of his right to practice medicine in Britain. Many other published studies have shown no connection between the MMR vaccination and autism.
But measles has surged since Dr. Wakefield's paper was published, and there are sporadic outbreaks in Europe and the United States.