The long-discredited study linking autism with childhood vaccinations was not only inaccurate but was “an elaborate fraud” was based largely on falsified data, the British Medical Journal reports.
Writing in the Journal, journalist Brian Deer said that many of the cases cited in the study either misrepresented or falsified important details
The original study was published in the respected medical journal The Lancet in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield and his collaborators. It concluded that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) was linked to autism and gastrointestinal disorders.
Wakefield was stripped of his medical license last May by British regulators who cited “serious professional misconduct” in the way he conducted and promoted the research.
The falsified findings played into the “natural is good” mantra popular in many quarters today. Ironically, it was higher-income, better-educated parents who took the bogus advice to heart.
A study released last November found that childhood vaccination rates in the United States had declined by almost four percentage points, with the biggest declines coming among higher-income families. Vaccination rates for Medicaid -- which serves low income families -- continued to steadily improve.
The Wakefield study was given added prominence when celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey and Holly Robinson Peete took up the cause. McCarthy has been particularly anti-vaccination. The actress appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007 to discuss her son's autism, which she feels was caused by common vaccines he received as a baby.
Measles outbreaks were reported in Western countries as the falsified study gained more adherents despite the efforts of public health agencies to counter the misleading but presumably well-meaning propaganda of the anti-vaccination activists.
The Lancet withdrew the article in January 2010 after concluding that “several elements” of the study were incorrect, but didn't go as far as calling them fraudulent.
Last October, an article in theJournal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursingfound that there was s no convincing scientific evidence supporting a relationship between vaccines and autism.
Researchers explored vaccination history, vaccine safety monitoring systems in the U.S., and the two most publicized theoretical vaccine-related exposures associated with autism - the vaccine preservative thimerosal and the MMR vaccine.
By definition, the onset of autism occurs prior to age three. No clear cause of autism has been identified, although various possible associations have been examined. There has been growing interest in environmental exposures, including vaccinations.
Childhood vaccinations are administered as early as possible to assure that infants are protected against diseases that occur in early childhood. This time period often coincides with the time period that autism may be suspected or diagnosed.
In response to the Wakefield paper, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) examined vaccine safety issues and after performing an in-depth review of the relevant literature, rejected a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. Eventually most of the authors of the original British paper also asked to retract the interpretation of their findings.
Concerns have also been raised about thimerosal, a preservative in multidose vaccines that was removed from routine vaccines in 2001 in the US and in 1992 in Denmark and Sweden. Despite the removal in Denmark and Sweden, autism rates have continued to increase there.
Other studies have failed to find a link as well. Finally, in February 2009, the U.S. Court of Federal claims found that the MMR vaccine and thimerosal containing vaccines were not causal factors in the development of autism.
"Nurses are often in the unique position of providing advice regarding vaccines in their formal practice areas as well as in their daily lives," the authors note. "It is thus imperative that they have knowledge of the research and its results when discussing vaccines with parents, peers, and medical health professionals."