(See important update, below)
The Times of London yesterday ran a story that Jenny McCarthy needs to read (h/t HotAir.com). The article details an investigation of the results of the 1998 paper in the Lancet medical journal which shows a link between thimerosal in MMR vaccines and autism. The investigation concludes the author, Andrew Wakefield, manipulated data to show the link.
Confidential medical documents and interviews with witnesses have established that Andrew Wakefield manipulated patients’ data, which triggered fears that the MMR triple vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella was linked to the condition.
The research … claimed that the families of eight out of 12 children attending a routine clinic at the hospital had blamed MMR for their autism, and said that problems came on within days of the jab. The team also claimed to have discovered a new inflammatory bowel disease underlying the children’s conditions.
However, our investigation … reveals that: 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.
How convincing was Dr. Wakefield’s article? Vaccination rates in the UK dropped from 98% to below 80%. Some 1350 cases of measles have been confirmed in the UK, a 2400% increase over the number of confirmed cases in 1998.
Besides the obvious implications of manipulated data, no one seemed too concerned that Dr. Wakefield’s sample in the 1998 paper included only 12 children. Time after time after time, studies have tried to replicate Dr. Wakefield’s results. Not surprisingly (anymore), no one was able to. Yet, that doesn’t stop parents from receiving news time warning about vaccines, the CDC from needing to issue a statement on the safety of thimerosal, the HHS from issuing money from the vaccine injury fund (!), and major presidential candidates from telling town hall attendees that there is a “strong link” between thimerosal and autism.
I don’t even think this qualifies for an Ig Nobel award. It’s just infuriating.
Update (2/2/10): Today, the Lancet Medical Journal officially retracted Dr. Wakefield’s original 1998 paper. The retraction was the final domino to fall in officially discrediting the specious claim linking thimerosal and autism. How long will it take to rid the vaccine-autism link from the minds of worried parents? That’s a different question. Hopefully, though, doctors can now use this to help persuade overly-worried parents that vaccines are indeed safe.