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Autism and vaccines? British journal retracts 1998 article that made original link

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It was a scientific paper heard around the world; especially the world of autism. And now the British medical journal The Lancet has retracted its 1998 article saying that vaccinations could increase a child’s risk of autism.

The original research, published by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, studied 12 children and concluded that the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine – commonly referred to as MMR – could weaken the immune system and leave it open to the development of autism.

In late January, however, the United Kingdom’s General Medical Council found that Wakefield had acted unethically during the research, saying that he had known that half the children in the study were already part of a lawsuit looking into the MMR vaccine’s effects. Wakefield had claimed that the children had all been referred to him for stomach problems.

Wakefield also received payment in conjunction with the lawsuit, and had a patent for a new MMR vaccine in development when he submitted his research.
Here’s what the retraction in the Lancet said Wednesday:

"Following the judgment of the U.K. General Medical Council's Fitness to Practice Panel … it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect ... in particular, the claims in the original paper that children were 'consecutively referred' and that investigations were 'approved' by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record."

"The Lancet is an enormously prestigious journal with worldwide circulation, so its action of repudiation is very important," Dr. William Schaffner, chair of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine's Department of Preventive Medicine in Nashville, Tenn, told ABC News. "The retraction puts another nail in the coffin of this awful, painfully erroneous study."

More from the story:

“The retraction is unlikely to close the Pandora's Box that the Wakefield study opened, other vaccination experts said.

Add a Comment4 Comments

HERWriter Guide

Hi Diane - great article from you and great question at the end.

With regard to the retraction - I'd rather see researchers retract their statements and findings than remain too proud to admit that mistakes were made and findings were interpreted incorrectly.

With regard to how I feel about vaccinations in general, I think these new cocktails of 4 and 5 shots all in one are bad for any little bodies to handle and like Rosa, we space ours.

I do believe that vaccinations are important but as parents, we need to decide how and when they are taken without being made to feel like we're jumping on the hysterical bandwagon, simply because we're not doctors or scientists.

Thankfully, we're out of the MMR stage with babies, but we still have a 3 and 4 year old who are "owed" a second dose and we're holding off for now. Most children only need one shot and I'm not sure if they need another, since it's only to help out a very small percentage of kids who don't develop the immunity that the first shot should have provided.

And in the end, these back and forth studies have me rolling me eyes. For every study that says X, another pops up that supports Y. I hate to sound jaded but that's how I feel about it.

February 6, 2010 - 1:00pm
EmpowHER Guest

Four other studies replicating the original findings of the Lancet study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and 12 other researchers:

Gonzalez, L. et al., "Endoscopic and Histological Characteristics of the Digestive Mucosa in Autistic Children with gastro-Intestinal Symptoms". Arch Venez Pueric Pediatr, 2005;69:19-25.

Balzola, F., et al., "Panenteric IBD-like disease in a patient with regressive autism shown for the first time by wireless capsule enteroscopy: Another piece in the jig-saw of the gut-brain syndrome?" American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2005. 100(4): p. 979- 981.

S. Walker, K. Hepner, J. Segal, A. Krigsman "Persistent Ileal Measles Virus in a Large Cohort of Regressive Autistic Children with Ileocolitis and Lymphonodular Hyperplasia: Revisitation of an Earlier Study" [IMFAR May 2007]

Balzola F et al . "Autistic enterocolitis: confirmation of a new inflammatory bowel disease in an Italian cohort of patients." Gastroenterology 2005;128(Suppl. 2);A-303.

February 4, 2010 - 8:27pm
EmpowHER Guest

The flawed study, where the "researcher" had a financial interest and took blood samples at a party, "shows" a link and the rigorous, double blind, controlled studies show no link.

It's not brain surgery.

February 4, 2010 - 2:37pm

As erroneous as the study may be, I still delay Chase's vaccines and I don't ever give him two live vaccines together. Not that I necessarily believe he will get autism or something else from his vaccines, but I don't see the need to give him 4-5 shots at a time or giving him live vaccines together.

My nephew has autism and I do sometimes think that it was caused by the MMR that his pediatrician erroneously gave him at his 6 month appointment instead of his one year appointment.

Some things will take a while to know the answer to and maybe even longer than we hope for but vaccines aside-- I hope we get the answer to the sudden rise and awareness of Autism and the real cause for it.

February 4, 2010 - 2:09pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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