It's a war that wages on with no clear end in sight: parents who want their children to be vaccinated vs. those who feel vaccinations cause autism spectrum disorder. The belief that vaccines are directly linked to autism is widely based on research by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British scientist who published a study in 1998. But what exactly was his scientific research that proves vaccines cause autism?
It turns out, the study has since been discredited. The prominent British medical journal BMJ in 2011 found that Dr. Wakefield's study was not only false but also an act of "deliberate fraud." Fiona Goodlee, who was the editor-in-chief of BMJ at the time, talked to CNN about the medical journal's findings.
It's one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors. But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data.
The limitations of Wakefield's findings in his 1998 study (his medical license was stripped in 2010) was apparently clear from the beginning. Scientists were concerned that his case series was too small and relied too heavily on "parental recalls and beliefs."
Journalist Brian Deer first began looking into Wakefield's study (which appeared in the Lancet medical journal) as part of a Sunday Times investigation in 2004, concerned that there might be a possible conflict of interest as Wakefield was involved in a lawsuit against makers of the MMR vaccine. Deer found that Wakefield deliberately falsified information — in particular Wakefield's key finding that there was a "time-link" between the MMR vaccination and the appearance of autism. In 2010, the Lancet printed a retraction of Wakefield's findings, but unfortunately the damage had been done. Wakefield's study had hit parents where it hurt the most; their child's health and safety.
Since Wakefield's study has been discredited, has there been any other scientific research that supports a link between vaccines and ASD? The short answer is no. The Center for Disease Control has conducted multiple studies, including nine studies since 2003 that have looked into thimerosal, "a mercury-based preservative used to prevent contamination of multidose vials of vaccines." Those studies concluded that there was no link between thimerosal and ASD.
We all have a common goal. We want to keep our kids safe. And vaccines protect our kids from harmful diseases. Despite what a discredited study might have had you believe.