Doctor Who Linked Autism and Vaccines Faked Data

Filed under: In The News

toddlerIn 1998, the medical journal The Lancet published a paper that claimed there was a clear link between the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, and rubella) and autism. As a result, parents of autistic children began clamoring for changes in the vaccines and in the vaccination schedule for infants and toddlers.

Unfortunately, the study's data was faked to create the appearance of a link between vaccines and autism. According to the Sunday Times of London, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the researcher behind the vaccine-autism claim, "changed and misreported results in his research."

Dr. Wakefield's research, which set off a firestorm of activism and scared parents into avoiding immunization, looked at 12 children vaccinated in the same British clinic. The paper claimed that eight of those children began to show signs of autistic behavior within days -- sometimes hours -- of their shots. The research also claimed that the children had a never-before-seen type of inflammatory bowel disease related to their condition, caused by the measles portion of the MMR vaccine.

In fact, though, hospital and medical records for the 12 children show exactly the opposite. The majority had no bowel issues, or at least none that could be confirmed by other specialists, for one thing. But even more telling is this: Most of the children included in Dr. Wakefield's study had presented with signs of autism before they were vaccinated.

In other words, there is no causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Period.

As a result of Dr. Wakefield's research, though, vaccination rates in England have dropped precipitously in the past decade, to the point where measles is now considered an "endemic" by epidemiologists. According to the Sunday Times, "Two British children have died from measles, and others put on ventilators, while many parents of autistic children torture themselves for having let a son or daughter receive the injection."

Dr. Wakefield's study terrified a whole generation of parents out of immunizing their children, which puts all of our children at risk. It also gave parents of autistic kids one more thing to feel guilty about. Said one mother, "There's not a day go by I don't cry because of what happened. I shouldn't have took her [for the MMR], and you know everyone will say, 'Don't blame yourself', but I do. I blame myself."

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Parenting shouldn't be like that. Ever.

I have never believed in the vaccine-autism link. I have a child on the autism spectrum, and if you think a day goes by when I don't try to unravel just what might have causes his brain to develop the way it did, you would be mistaken. I have another child who is completely neurotypical, which makes this even more baffling. Both of my sons had the same vaccines, on the same schedule, administered by the same doctor and manufactured by the same drug company. In my mind, there is no link at all between the shots they had -- which protect them from deadly childhood diseases -- and my son's autism. To me, it is clear that my son's autism -- like his hair color and his long legs and his love of reading -- is encoded in his DNA.

In other words, he's autistic because that's who he is.

Linking autism to vaccines -- or to food additives or power lines or heavy metals or whatever you choose -- gives parents a scapegoat, something to rage against. And while I can see the need for that outlet, it doesn't help autistic kids at all. Using bad science to make claims about what causes medical conditions is always harmful; Wakefield's research didn't cure autism, and it didn't enable parents to help their autistic kids. It just gave all of us one more way to worry that we were failing our children, one more thing to lie awake at night feeling guilty about.

I'm glad to see the vaccine-autism link so clearly debunked. I hope that all the energy that has gone into resisting vaccines can go into learning how we can support kids and families living with autism. And I hope that parents can cross this off the list of things to fear and fret about.

Do you believe there's a link between vaccines and autism? Are you vaccinating your kids, or are you afraid of the possible consequences?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.