Vaccines and Autism: No Connection
In February of 2010, the British medical journal the Lancet, in which Wakefield’s article was originally published, retracted the 1998 article because of “undisclosed conflicts of interest” and discovery that the children in his study had not been randomly selected as good study design dictates. Last month, the UK Sunday Times published a further expose – Wakefield’s study was actual fraud, not just poorly designed. Apparently, data concerning the patients had been altered – the most significant alteration being that 5 of the 12 children study had documented developmental disabilities before receiving the vaccine, therefore making it impossible to conclude that the vaccine itself had in any way hindered their development. What was Wakefield’s “undisclosed conflict of interest”? Allegedly, he had a scheme to sell diagnostic kits and replacement vaccines.
Apart from the needless endangerment of children’s lives, this sad saga raises another issue in my mind. Of the thousands of medical research papers published every year, why was the public so quick to focus on this one paper? Why does there sometime seem to be an apparent eagerness to reject the scientific and medical “establishment” in favor of “natural” alternatives, which may or may not have any basis in fact? Many well-meaning, educated parents believed the hype, and listened to what Jenny McCarthy or Oprah said over what their pediatrician recommended.
Fortunately, the fraudulent nature of the original paper is now getting attention in the popular media; hopefully it is not too late for many previously unvaccinated children to become vaccinated. At the same time, the medical community needs to continue its efforts to educate and explain to the public why vaccination is necessary and safe.