Does MMR Vaccine Cause Autism? Discredited Research
When Andrew Wakefield’s study about a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism appeared in The Lancet in 1998 it caused widespread fear and panic amongst parents. Vaccination rates plummeted and this resulted in a rise in measles. His findings were later discredited, and in May 2010 the General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK found him guilty of serious medical misconduct over the way he carried out his research. They said it was dishonest and misleading.
This followed an earlier ruling by the GMC that stated that Dr. Wakefield had acted unethically. He was also criticized for conducting unnecessarily invasive tests on children. Overall he was found guilty of more than 30 charges. The GMC did not investigate whether his research was right or wrong, it simply focused on his methods.
He was accused by Dr Surendra Kumar, the panel’s chairman, of bringing the medical profession into disrepute. He said his behavior constituted "multiple separate instances of serious professional misconduct".
Dr. Wakefield contends the claims against him are “unfounded and unjust” and has vowed to continue with his research.
Exploring a Possible Link Between the MMR Vaccination and Autism
MMR is a combined vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella, and was introduced in the UK in 1988. Millions of doses are administered every year in many countries around the world.
But in the mid-1990s Dr. Wakefield started to consider the possibility of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. He was the lead author of the paper that appeared in The Lancet and it focused on tests conducted on 12 children (eleven boys and one girl, aged between 2 ½ and 9 ½ years).
They had all been diagnosed with regressive autism, where children develop normally, but suddenly lose their language skills. And they were all referred to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead in London for gastrointestinal problems.
According to the paper, the parents of eight of the children said they had developed “behavioral symptoms” within days of receiving the MMR jab.
‘Conflict of Interest’
At the same time, Dr. Wakefield was being paid to carry out another study. This was investigating whether parents who believed their children were injured by the MMR vaccine actually had a case. Some of the children were involved in both studies. The Lancet later said this represented a conflict of interest, and had they known about it at the time, would not have published the paper.
A Storm Brews
Dr. Wakefield’s paper was actually fairly cautious, and didn’t prove any causal link – “We did not prove an association between measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described”.
But in a press conference at the time of the study Dr. Wakefield went further and advocated parents to opt for single jabs against mumps, measles and rubella. The furor surrounding this led to the sharp reduction in the number of children vaccinated against these diseases.
The London Sunday Times thoroughly investigated Dr. Wakefield and his autism paper. They found a number of inconsistencies including the reporting of what happened to the first child discussed in the study.
According to the research the boy’s parents had spotted “behavioral symptoms” one week after he received the MMR jab. Yet, as the newspaper found out, his medical records told a different story. At 9 ½ months, 10 weeks before he had the jab, the boy’s parents were concerned that he couldn’t hear properly. This is a classic first symptom of autism.
No Proof that MMR Vaccine Causes Autism
No one has been able to replicate Wakefield’s findings, a crucial step in science to see if there really is cause and effect. So far there isn’t a single credible study that has shown a link between MMR and autism.
In addition, studies that have been carried out on vaccinated and unvaccinated children reveal no differences in autism rates between the two groups. And medical experts point out there are plenty of recognized studies supporting the safety of the MMR vaccine.
A 2009 scientific review of research on possible links between autism and MMR states that biological and epidemiological studies fail to support the hypothesis, and that “further studies on the cause or causes of autism should focus on more promising leads”.
1) Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) Vaccination – Sense about Science Policy Briefing
2) Jeffrey s. Gerber and Paul A. Offit "Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses." Clin Infect Dis. 2009;48:456–461.