BMJ: Study linking vaccines, autism was a fraud

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Jan. 17, 2011

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The 1998 Lancet study that sparked fears of a connection between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism and gastrointestinal disease was the result of fraud, said an editorial published online Jan. 5 in BMJ, the British medical journal.

Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the lead author of the discredited study, "altered numerous facts about the patients' medical histories in order to support his claim to have identified a new syndrome," BMJ's top editors concluded (link).

They based their opinion on the work of British investigative reporter Brian Deer, who found that none of the 12 cases reported in The Lancet study could "be fully reconciled with descriptions, diagnoses or histories published in the journal." The Lancet retracted the article in February 2010 after hearings held by the General Medical Council, the British regulator that revoked Dr. Wakefield's medical license in May 2010.

Among other things, Deer found that three of the nine children reported in the study as having autism had not received that diagnosis. Five of the 12 children reported as being "normal" before immunization actually had previous documented developmental problems. And nine of the cases were altered to show colitis after previous reviews found no or small changes in gut inflammatory cell activity.

"Misreporting was gross," the BMJ editorial said. "Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield."

Dr. Wakefield told CNN that his work was "distorted" and that he is the victim of a "ruthless, pragmatic attempt to crush any attempt to investigate valid vaccine safety concerns."

The 1998 article prompted further studies on the purported vaccine-autism link, with a vast array of subsequent research rejecting any such connection. Experts blame fears sparked by the article for declining vaccination rates in Britain and thousands of cases annually of measles and mumps.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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