Vaccines and Autism

Greeting’s Earthlings! ūüôā

Yep…I’m going there today- the autism vaccine controversy.

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This issue has been thoroughly debated by scientists in recent years, so I’m going to discuss this once, and once alone.

In 1998, the now completely discredited scientist Andrew Wakefield published this paper in The Lancet:

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Notice the word ‘RETRACTED’ in bold red letters.

In this paper, Wakefield suggested that the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is linked to inflammatory bowel disease and autism.

This is what I like to call:

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Subsequent to the publication of this paper, serious conflicts of interest and falsified data were discovered. This led to the paper’s ultimate retraction and Wakefield was struck off the medical register in the UK. Countless studies have endeavored to replicate the results of Wakefield’s work, but none have succeeded, proving that there is no medical link¬†between the MMR vaccine and autism.

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Here are the real facts about the case:

Wakefield’s work had multiple conflicts of interest:

  • When the paper was first submitted for publishing, he failed to disclose that he was in receipt of funds (~¬£435,000 or $674,000) from lawyers acting on the behalf of parents that believed the MMR vaccine was harmful!
  • During the course of his investigation, Wakefield filed a patent for a new measles vaccine, standing to gain financially from the downfall of the currently available vaccine
  • Patients were recruited to the study through anti-MMR campaigners

Several ethical codes were broken by Wakefield when conducting his research:

  • Wakefield unethically collected blood samples from children at his son’s birthday party (reportedly for ¬£5 a pop)
  • Patients were subjected to unnecessary invasive procedures such as lumbar punctures and colonoscopies without prior ethical approval
  • The company that Wakefield sought to establish following the paper’s publication was to be headed by the father of one of the patients included in his study
  • Wakefield further tested out his new measles vaccine on a child without recording it in his medical notes or discussing it with the child’s GP
  • Most serious of all- Wakefield falsified and manipulated his findings!! It was discovered that Wakefield had either misrepresented or altered medical histories in¬†ALL cases described in the study!

Aside from evidence tampering, the design of the study was quite poor. Wakefield’s research examined a very small patient cohort (only 12 children) using case reports- one of the weakest forms of medical research. Large scale studies examining hundreds of thousands of cases have not established a link between the vaccine and autism.

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Of the 12 children examined in the study, 5 showed signs of developmental delay prior to receiving the MMR vaccine, and a further 3 patients did not in fact have autism.

But what of other research in this area?

Studies which are often cited in the MMR controversy suggest a link between thimerosal, (a mercury containing compound), in vaccines and autism- a link which has been largely refuted. Additionally, thimerosal has been removed from or reduced to trace amounts in currently available vaccines- but autism rates still continue to rise.

Studies have also been conducted to explore the impact of the anti-vax movement on autism rates. These studies compare autism rates in those who did and those who did not receive the MMR vaccine. The result- no difference in autism rates between both groups!! 

Furthermore, following the publication of his paper, Wakefield proposed that 3 separate vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella was a safer alternative to the combined vaccine.

But did he have a point?

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Nope- in countries where the practice of giving 3 separate vaccines at 3 separate stages was adopted, autism rates continued to rise regardless.

So there we have the facts about the MMR vaccine controversy. If you’re still a little bit skeptical, I’ll leave you with one final thought:

Wakefield has repeatedly refused to deny or replicate the findings of his study. If there was nothing to hide, then why not prove his claims?

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Aoife

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