As you may have heard on the news this morning, the British Medical Journal further discredited the research of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, an English doctor whose work attempts to link autism to vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella. Wakefield’s data and research practices have been questioned in the past, (he was barred from practicing medicine in the U.K. by the country’s General Medical Council in May) but two new articles from the BMJ go as far as to claim that his research was not only incorrect, but purposely falsified, possibly for financial gain.
Yesterday’s article and accompanying editorial will be the first in a series stating that Wakefield either misrepresented or altered information in his study of 12 children, whose autism he claims was linked to vaccination. According to the article’s author Brian Deer, the series will “expose the bogus data behind claims that launched a worldwide scare over the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, and reveals how the appearance of a link with autism was manufactured at a London medical school.”
Since 2004 Deer has been publishing stories discrediting Wakefield’s findings on the dangers of MMR vaccination, and now accuses the doctor of purposely submitting falsified data to prove his theories. A separate BMJ editorial written about Wakefield calls his work “an elaborate fraud.”
Unfortunately the work of Andrew Wakefield has had a negative impact on the lives of children, the practice of pediatrics, and research to discover the causes and develop new and innovative treatments for autism spectrum disorders. As a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician who also provided primary care for the past 27 years, I have seen the impact up close and personal.
First, it would be impossible to quantify the amount of time wasted in pediatric practices discussing why we believe that the MMR vaccination does not cause autism and that children should be immunized.
Second, the heartbreak and worry for parents of children with autism, who have secretly believed that they were responsible for their child’s condition, and the anxiety of parents approaching immunization time with so much false information and fear flying around them, is impossible to comprehend.
Perhaps most painful for pediatric practices, the biggest public health breakthrough during my 30 year career – immunizations – has been twisted into a source of suspicion, breaking down the trust of parents in their pediatrician. Wakefield and his associates have tried to convince parents that pediatricians are in cahoots with pharmaceutical companies and not at all concerned with the welfare of their children. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
Thirty years ago, every week my primary care practice would have at least one case on meningitis, one case of epiglotitis, and one case of septic arthritis – all life threatening disorders with lasting sequelae. Today, pediatric residents could go through their entire training and never see one case. In fact, even though almost everyone I grew up with had measles, mumps and rubella, I never saw a case of measles during my training or practice due to the MMR vaccine.
Pediatricians however are starting to see these diseases again due to the fear that Wakefield’s paper caused thereby decreasing immunization rates.
Finally, millions of dollars have been diverted from autism research to one study after another, unsuccessfully attempting to replicate any of the findings from Wakefield’s work.