Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lancet officially retracts study linking autism to MMR vaccine

There's been news on the autism front, and I'm over at's Child Caring blog with the latest:

On Tuesday, editors at The Lancet officially retracted the British medical journal's 12-year-old study that they say incorrectly linked the combination Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism.

The retraction of the 1998 study comes less than a week after the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom chastised the Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his co-authors for acting "dishonestly and irresponsibly" in doing his research for the study, which claimed that eight out of 12 children who received the MMR vaccine began showing symptoms of autism within days of getting the shot.

Last year, The Sunday Times of London published an in-depth report which alleges that Dr. Wakefield and his co-authors, John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch, fabricated much of their research by manipulating the patients' data. According to the Times report

In most of the 12 cases, the children's ailments as described in The Lancet were different from their hospital and GP records. Although the research paper claimed that problems came on within days of the jab, in only one case did medical records suggest this was true, and in many of the cases medical concerns had been raised before the children were vaccinated. Hospital pathologists, looking for inflammatory bowel disease, reported in the majority of cases that the gut was normal. This was then reviewed and the Lancet paper showed them as abnormal.

Soon after the study was published in 1998, cases of measles in England skyrocketed and, even though Dr. Wakefield's research focused on just 12 patients, its results have been the basis for much of the anti-vaccination movement worldwide.

According to a BBC report, Dr. Wakefield, a gastroenterologist, was neither ethically cleared nor qualified to perform invasive tests, like spinal taps, on the children in his study. He also paid children at his son's birthday party to provide blood samples, and failed to disclose that "he had been paid to advise solicitors acting for parents who believed their children had been harmed by the MMR."

Jenny McCarthy's autism foundation, Generation Rescue, issued a statement last week in support of Dr. Wakefield, in which it accuses the General Medical Council of trying to cover up the link between vaccines and autism and spanks the media for allowing it to happen. "The sole purpose of the GMC's ruling this week is to try and quell the growing concern of parents that the expanding vaccine schedule and the remarkable rise in autism are correlated," the statement reads. "The GMC will no doubt be helped by a press that barely understands the debate and has never read any of the dozens of studies published by Dr. Wakefield in many different respected medical journals."

At The Huffington Post, David Kirby calls The Lancet's retraction "unwanted and overwrought" and writes that "there are now at least six published legal or scientific cases of children regressing into ASD following vaccination -- and many more will be revealed in due time." While he agrees that vaccines are not the only contributing factor, he points out that "more than 1,300 cases of vaccine injuries have been paid out in vaccine court, in which the court ruled that childhood immunizations caused encephalopathy (brain disease), encephalitis (brain swelling) and/or seizure disorders. ... If we know that vaccines can cause these injuries, is it not reasonable to ask if they can cause similar injuries that lead to autism?"

As I've written before, no one really knows what causes autism. Children who were extremely premature are thought to be at higher risk for autism. In 2008, some studies showed a possible link between autism and certain metabolic diseases. An article in Science Direct indicates that children living near toxic waste seem more likely to be on the spectrum. Some believe that the preservative Thimerosal, formerly used in many vaccines, could trigger a toxic tipping point, damaging the immune system; others think that administering several vaccines simultaneously could be the trigger. Others blame "toxic synergy," in which many of the so-called "harmless" chemicals and additives in everyday food, medications, and consumer products become toxic when heated or combined. (Randall Fitzgerald's book, The Hundred-Year Lie: How Food and Medicine are Destroying Your Health, does a great job of explaining the concept.) And, of course, there's the possibility of a genetic link.

Our oldest son is on the spectrum, and when our youngest kids came along we thought long and hard about vaccinating them. With no real way to prove that multiple vaccines were not harmful, and with no evidence against the idea of a toxic tipping point, we decided to vaccinate them --but over a longer period of time. With our pediatrician's approval, we opted to have them receive only one live vaccination per visit (two if both shots had inactive viruses), and to wait as long as possible between doses.

Parents, does this latest development make you think differently about vaccinating -- or not vaccinating -- your child? Why or why not?


Unknown said...

I will be vaccinating on a delayed schedule with doctor approval, mainly due to genetic predispositions and a desire to avoid over-medicating at a young age.

Erin said...

Thank you for sharing the information and what you have done in your family.

I'm not a parent yet, but I will vaccinate when I have children, either on a delayed or traditional schedule. This retraction reminds us that scientists don't know for sure if the vaccines cause autism. However, they do know that vaccines prevent disease. It would be unbearable for me to watch a child suffer from an illness that could have been prevented, yet even without the vaccines, a child could fall on the autism spectrum.

It seems to me that these professionals should spend less time on blame and more time on support for people on the spectrum and prevention of new cases.