Wow, more news just in from the British Medical Journal relating to Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 article on vaccines and autism. According to the BMJ, Dr. Wakefield’s article was “an elaborate fraud” in which he falsified information for “his landmark” study in which he claimed that the MMR (mumps, measles, rubella) vaccine caused autism.
In the years since the article was published, thousands of parents have chosen not to immunize their children for fear of autism. As a result of Dr. Wakefield’s “doctored” data, immunization rates in England dropped dramatically and measles outbreaks occurred causing hospitalizations and even deaths. We also saw outbreaks of measles and mumps in this country in children who had not been immunized.
Although some parents think that these diseases have been eradicated, the reality is that immunizations provide the protection to keep the diseases at bay and as immunization rates drop, the diseases may re-emerge. (remember discussions of herd immunity?)
The investigation into Dr. Wakefield’s data showed that some of the children that he stated had been “developmentally normal” prior to their MMR vaccine, actually had evidence of developmental delay even prior to immunization. It was also reported that Dr. Wakefield was paid more than $675,000 by a lawyer who hoped to sue vaccine makers. In a nutshell, he lied and jeopardized many lives.
The falsified data and journal article which suggested the link between MMR vaccine and autism has continued to cause some parents to be afraid to vaccinate their children.
A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control showed that nearly 40% of American parents have declined or delayed a vaccine, many of whom may have questioned vaccines due to the aforementioned Wakefield article.
It is somewhat incredible to me that one man and a article that has be denounced and retracted, can still cause parental concern over giving vaccines, and this despite the fact that over 14 independent studies have failed to show a link between vaccines and autism. How is it that one doctor (who has since has his license terminated) managed to cause such an enormous distrust of vaccines? I am just happy that even further investigation has shown that Dr. Wakefield was not motivated by “the greater good” as we are taught as physicians, but rather by his own personal gain.
This latest BMJ article is one more reason to denounce Dr. Wakefield’s studies and move onward to restore the trust in vaccines. Vaccines have saved hundreds of thousands of lives; we just need to keep up the good work to keep children and adults healthy.
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