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Doctor Who Fueled Vaccine-Autism Link Altered Data: Report

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The British doctor whose 1998 paper fueled international fears of a link between childhood vaccines and autism manipulated and changed data to make his case, the Sunday Times of London reported.

An investigation by the newspaper found that Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues altered confidential and public records to support their claim that eight of 12 autistic children attending a routine clinic at Wakefield's hospital had developed symptoms of autism only days after they were given the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Wakefield's original findings, published in The Lancet, have since been refuted by many subsequent epidemiological studies.

According to the Los Angeles Times Brian Deer, an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times who had been following the MMR controversy since the beginning, said a review of hospital and other records showed that almost all of the children had developed symptoms of autism well before receiving the shot. While Wakefield claimed that measles virus found in the intestines of the children caused an inflammatory bowel disease linked to autism after they were given the shot, Deer found that hospital pathologists examining the children for signs of inflammatory bowel disease were unable to confirm its presence in most of the cases, and concluded that Wakefield or someone on his team altered the data to make it appear the condition was found, the Los Angeles Times said.

Deer also reported that at least one parent of a child in whose intestines the measles virus was said to have been found took samples to three other labs, which were unable to confirm Wakefield's findings. Deer also found that Wakefield had been retained as an expert witness two years before his study by a lawyer planning to sue vaccine makers on behalf of parents who thought the MMR shot caused their children's problems. Deer said the parents cited in The Lancet article came to Wakefield's clinic after responding to an advertisement by the lawyer's group, called Jabs, and not for routine screening, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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