An investigation by the Sunday Times has concluded that Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who first reported a link between autism and the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine, altered and misrepresented data to indicate that result.
Dr. Wakefield’s research was presented in an article in The Lancet medical journal in February of 1998. This article claimed that 8 of 12 “previously normal” children who received the MMR vaccine displayed “behavioural symptoms” within weeks of their vaccinations.
However, according to interviews with witnesses and previously inaccessible documents and medical records, many of the 12 children involved with Wakefield’s study displayed symptoms of autism before they received their vaccination.
Other children in the study were reported to have begun displaying symptoms within weeks of their vaccination, while medical records portray a longer time period. This is significant because autism often presents in the second year; a longer period of time could indicate a more conventional diagnosis other than “sudden onset” as a result of the MMR.
The research team also claimed that a bowel disease, called nonspecific colitis, was an underlying cause for these symptoms, suggested by a “uniformity of the intestinal pathological changes”. The Lancet reported each child suffered from colitis to varying degrees of severity; hospital records for at least seven children detected no such abnormalities.
In addition, Dr. Wakefield was found to be working with a lawyer hired to find evidence to be used against the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine, calling his motives into question.
The Wakefield findings have been controversial for some time, as researchers found it difficult to replicate the results although directly replicating the tests. In addition, while one might expect the timing of the introduction of the MMR vaccine to correspond to a steep uptick in autism cases, no such statistical correlation could be made.
The fact remains that diagnoses of autism are on the rise. Recent findings suggest that autism may be linked to environmental factors, such as proximity to sites emitting industrial mercury and exposure to chemicals in the home.
Cases of measles are also on the rise, a 36% increase in 2008, as parents opt to forego the MMR vaccination for their children. As fewer children receive these vaccinations, the public loses their “herd immunity”, and the possibility of an epidemic is increased. Measles can lead to pneumonia and encephalitis, serious illnesses in young children.
The question of vaccination keeps growing more complicated. Does this new information change your stance?
Photo Credit: Andres Rueda under Creative Commons