Dr Wakefield’s study was first published in 1998 in The Lancet and was formally retracted by the journal last July. Journalist Brain Deer who followed the claim and investigated it for seven long years has published a serried of articles in the British Medical Journal showing the extent of his fraud and how he perpetrated it.
Just after the study was published, Dr Wakefield was heralded as the MMR warrior and encouraged skepticism amongst parents about the efficacy of the vaccine. A great anti-vaccination drive took off which got a further push with media attention and celebrities who got on to the bandwagon.
Further studies proved no link between autism and MMR vaccine
There were reservations against the paper’s scientific validity even when it appeared in 1998. Critics pointed that the paper’s research was based on a small sample with no control, linked three common conditions and relied on parent’s biased testimony. The next decade a lot of ensuing studies found no link between the two. By the time the paper was retracted in 2001, there was no doubt in the minds of the scientific community that it was fatally flawed. The General Medical Council held a detailed and long hearing before giving their verdict of no confidence in the study.
Since then, there have been numerous big studies -- including one with 530,000 children and one with 1.8 million children -- and no link was found. As recently as in 2008, a Columbia University study found no connection between the vaccine and autism in kids. Our results are inconsistent with a causal role for MMR vaccine as a trigger or exacerbator of either G.I. difficulties or autism, said one of the Columbia researchers, Mady Hornig, at the time.
Increased outbreak of measles and mumps linked to anti vaccine drive
The alleged link between the vaccinations and autism also took away a great deal of money, attention and energy from research into the actual cause of autism.
The effect of Wakefield’s study was so huge that parents started keeping away from the MMR and a significant rise in Measles and Mumps outbreaks have been regularly reported in the US and Europe. In fact, California in 2010 broke a 55-year-old record for the number of cases of whooping cough reports msnbc.com . That's directly related to parents who haven’t vaccinated their children. Wakefield found a ready audience in people looking for something to blame for autism.
Scientific Journalism has to be extra vigilant
The media has to take full responsibility in perpetuating the fraud, reports Andrea James, author of an article, Science by Press Conference . She is endorsed in her view by other writers. Journalists reporting on scientific issues are very gullible to the complicated facts and theories put before them. Barely able to grasp the basics they are hardly in a position to question and comprehend. For most their duty is done in reporting an event.
Hopefully, the latest finding will put an end to the debate on the link between autism and MMR and all attention will focus on the real cause of triggering it.
Dr Wakefield remains adamant that the scientific results of his 1998 study are still valid. Dr Wakefield was working in Florida for the International Child Development Resource Center. Wakefield's medical license was revoked in May for serious professional misconduct involving the study.