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Infamous Study on MMR Vaccine and Autism Link Takes Final Blow

Much has been made of the link between vaccines and autism, and nothing ignited the fire as much as a 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield’s  scientific paper, published by The Lancet,  linking the MMR  vaccine to an increased autism risk.

That study has been retracted by 10 of Wakefield’s co-authors and The Lancet has called it “dishonest” and “irresponsible.”

Now the story has taken on another head of steam, pitting two esteemed British medical journals at odds.

The editor in chief of the BMJ, Fiona Godlee, M.D., says “the MMR scare was based not on bad science but on a deliberate fraud” and that such “clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare.”

As with the retraction, there have been other claims brought against the research as reported on by WebMD. The UK withdrew Wakefield’s license to practice medicine; he now resides in Texas.

But great damage was done. There is a lingering belief, despite a convincing body of scientific evidence to the contrary, that childhood vaccination is a major cause of autism. While vaccines can, rarely, cause severe side effects, the U.S. Institute of Medicine rejects the link between vaccination and autism.

Now the BMJ goes farther, laying out a convincing case that Wakefield perpetuated a fraud.

An additional BMJ editorial claimed that , “A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he [Andrew Wakefield] wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross.”

Much of this newer evidence has been surfaced by a seven-year inquiry by investigative reporter Brian Deer.

Although this is unlikely to close the door among many people’s suspicions of vaccines and autism, it is an important step towards leading us in a useful direction to finding the causes of autism — and perhaps closing some doors as to the myths of what causes it.

Sean Swint
WebMD Executive Editor

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