By Alison Singer
President, Autism Science Foundation
The week, the British General Medical Council (GMC) ruled that Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who first proposed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” when he published his research and showed a ‘callous disregard’ for the suffering of children.
The GMC decision came after the longest and most expensive hearing in its 148-year history. The hearing focused on a small study of a dozen children by Dr Wakefield and 12 doctors which linked the MMR with autism and bowel problems. It was published in the Lancet, the highly respected medical journal, in 1998. At a press conference following the publication, Wakefield said there were “sufficient anxieties for a case to be made” to give the three vaccines separately. Numerous other studies, including one involving three million children, failed to make the link. But that didn’t prevent MMR vaccination rates from plummeting by 12% in Great Britain after Wakefield’s report. And in 2006 a 13-year-old boy died from measles. More death followed.
Eventually Wakefield’s collaborators withdrew their names from the Lancet paper and the paper itself was eventually retracted. Later it was revealed that Wakefield had received funds from lawyers representing the children enrolled in his study. And now the GMC has spoken in clear and convincing terms. And let’s not forget that the hearing itself was not even about the science; it was about Wakefield’s methods. The science has been in for some time now. No study has shown a link between autism and MMR. To read the studies visit www.autismsciencefoundation.org/autismandvaccines.html
But will this be the end of the controversy. I doubt it.
Once you put an idea in people’s head, even in the presence of clear and convincing science, it is very hard to unscare them. Anti vaccine autism advocates continue to see Wakefield as a hero who remains willing to take on the establishment and fight for their children. In the meantime, Wakefield’s actions have had a lasting negative effect on children’s health in that some people are still afraid of immunizations. In some cases, the younger siblings of children with autism are being denied life saving vaccines. This population of baby siblings, already at higher risk for developing autism, is now also being placed at risk for life threatening, vaccine preventable disease, despite mountains of scientific evidence indicating no link between vaccines and autism. This is the Wakefield legacy.