Lancet Retracts 1998 Paper Said to Link Vaccine to Austism
No link found between MMR vaccine and autism
Study fueled reductions in vaccination rates causing rise in cases of childhood illnesses
Sometimes, saying something is so, just does not work. For years, clinical evidence has pointed unmistakably to the fact that vaccines do not cause autism. If there is any link at all, it is tenuous at best and no evidence exists to suggest otherwise. Except for a "landmark" study published over a decade ago in the prestigious British medical journal, Lancet. It now appears that the methods used by the lead researcher, Dr. Andrew Wakefield were suspect, so much so, that he has been sanctioned by medical authorities in Britain. Additionally, there have been reported conflicts of interest which were undisclosed, a clear ethical violation.
The prominent British medical journal Lancet recently retracted a 1998 publication that spurred declines in vaccinations in Britain. The lead author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, suggested that vaccines could cause autism. The retraction is part of a reassessment of the scientific methods and financial conflicts of Dr. Wakefield, who contended that his research showed that the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) might be unsafe.
The Lancet stated its retraction in no uncertain terms. "Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council's Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were "consecutively referred" and that investigations were "approved" by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.
Despite this, many parents support and cling to Dr. Wakefield's statements. Still, the retraction goes on to state that the overwhelming body of research by the world's leading scientists concludes there is no link between M.M.R. vaccine and autism. Dr. Wakefield's now discredited assertion caused one of the biggest medical debates in a generation and led to a steep drop in vaccinations in the United States, Britain and other parts of Europe, prompting a rise in measles cases.
A disciplinary panel of Britain's General Medical Council, or GMC, ruled last week that Wakefield had presented his research in an "irresponsible and dishonest" way and shown a "callous disregard" for the suffering of the children he studied. It also ruled that he had brought the medical profession "into disrepute.
Principal responsibility for sparking this health scare must rest with the researcher who originally suggested a link. Still, the media kept fueled the flames. The response of health professionals was tepid at best. Most did not wish to partake of the public debate and many even appeared to waiver in their support of vaccinations.
Sadly, this scenario is not unique in the halls of academic medicine. Certain professors and researchers make a career out of being contrarians and controversial. Yes, on occasion these folks do indeed have a message of reform and insight worthy of note. However, too often, they use their self-generated controversy as a means to an end. The end is a plethora of invitations to trot the globe to meetings, give lectures, serve on panels and committees, and in general live the life of a minor celebrity within the circles of medicine.
The main tenet of medical advancement is that if you really discover a breakthrough idea, it had better be able to be reproduced independently by others or prove itself in the clinical laboratory - that is in the body of patients at large. In this regard, Dr. Wakefield has failed. This is sad since so many parents gave hung their collective hats on his work as a means to find a cause for the ills of their children. To be sure, the parent of an autistic child is heavily burdened and it is understandable why anyone would wish to find out what caused this to occur to his or her child. All parents would react the same. However, the risk of abandoning vaccinations across the board has brought back the greater risks of widespread outbreaks of potentially life threatening illness and the complications that can arise from those illnesses.
Research on the safety of vaccines should not cease. It should continue as it has unabated. But groundless fears, even when clung too under the banner of a major medical journal, need to be discarded for a more open minded view of reality. Vaccines are in general, remarkably safe and offer great protections for the public health of the population of the planet.