Andrew Wakefield labeled a fraud for linking vaccines to autism

vaccine linked to childhood autism

Andrew Wakefield's study linking the MMR vaccine to childhood autism was first called unethical; he has now been accused of outright fraud. Image: CC UNICEF Sveridge/Flickr

Dr. Andrew Wakefield emerged from obscurity in 1998 with an article about research that implicated vaccines as a trigger for childhood autism. His research was embraced by the anti-vaccination movement and popularized by former MTV personality Jenny McCarthy. But scientists were skeptical from the start. The article was eventually discredited, Wakefield lost his license, and Wednesday he was labeled a fraud.

Andrew Wakefield’s autism study

Andrew Wakefield’s study on childhood autism appeared in Lancet in 1998. It linked a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to the onset of childhood autism. Additional studies did not replicate Wakefield’s results, and Lancet published a retraction of the article. In February 2010, British medical regulators said Wakefield acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” and with “callous disregard” for the children involved in his autism study. His medical license was revoked in May. The latest blow to Wakefield’s reputation and the anti-vaccine movement was delivered by British journalist Brian Deer, who called the study “an elaborate fraud” in the British Medical Journal.

Vaccination rates plummet, rubella cases skyrocket

When Andrew Wakefield’s study appeared in Lancet, he did not mention that he was getting paid by lawyers representing parents who believed the MMR vaccine hurt their children. His article sent parents into a panic. Vaccination rates in Britain and the U.S. plummeted. There were 56 rubella cases in the U.K in 1998. By 2008, 1,370 were reported, and in 2008 the U.S. had the most rubella cases since 1997. Still, anti-vaccine activists such as Jenny McCarthy said those who discredited Wakefield’s study linking the MMR vaccine to childhood autism were in collusion with pharmaceutical companies alarmed at the drop in MMR vaccination rates.

Wakefield plays pharmaceutical conspiracy card

Wakefield now lives in the U.S. He appeared on CNN Wednesday to defend his research. He claimed that his findings had been replicated in five countries. He went on to accuse the pharmaceutical industry of hiring Deer as a “hit man who has been brought in to take me down.” On Thursday, Deer countered, saying Wakefield had the opportunity to sue him for libel and the case was thrown out. He also said the Department of Homeland Security should review Wakefield’s visa to see how he got into the U.S. “to export his mischief.”

Sources

CNN

NPR

San Francisco Chronicle

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