Will autism fraud report be a vaccine booster?
(AP) - 12 hours ago|
ATLANTA (AP) - This week more shame was heaped upon the discredited British researcher whose work gave rise to the childhood-vaccines-cause-autism movement, as a prominent medical journal published a report that the man had faked his data. But will it make a difference?
Some believe the latest news will finally destroy the reputation of researcher Andrew Wakefield and put an end to the claim of scientific underpinnings for the anti-vaccine movement. "We hope that declaring the paper a fraud will close that door for good," wrote the journal BMJ this week, in an editorial accompanying the report.
Yet at least some advocacy groups continue to take Wakefield's side. And though the latest report may ease the doubts of some parents, experts said they'd be surprised if the latest news changes views overall.
"This scared people and it's hard to unscare them," said Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious disease expert at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"Until medicine can step up and say, 'We understand the cause of autism,' they may never be assured," said Offit, who has written books criticizing the anti-vaccine movement.
Wakefield made international waves following the publication in 1998 in the Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, that he and his colleagues had linked measles-mumps-rubella vaccine with autism in most of a dozen children they had studied.
It was a small series of observations, wrapped in a hypothesis - not even a full medical study. But it exploded in the media, prompting a wave of parental concerns in England as well as the United States.
Immunization rates in Britain dropped from 92 percent to 73 percent, and were as low as 50 percent in some parts of London. The effect was not nearly as dramatic in the United States, but researchers have estimated that as many as 125,000 U.S. children born in the late 1990s did not get the MMR vaccine because of the Wakefield splash.
It's not clear how many U.S. parents knew details of the Wakefield paper, or how many even knew his name, vaccine experts say. But the research coincided with growing apprehension about autism in this country, and seemed to finally assign a likely reason for it. The idea that vaccines could cause autism took hold.
"Clearly, the results of this (Wakefield) study have had repercussions," said Dr. Michael Smith, a University of Louisville infectious diseases expert who has studied the autism controversy's effect on immunization rates.
Gradually, Wakefield's hypothesis was checked by other researchers who failed to confirm a link between vaccines and autism. It was dissected by experts, and 10 of the article's 13 authors renounced the work.
The first claims that Wakefield had doctored data came in a 2009 story in the Sunday Times of London by British journalist Brian Deer. That report said Wakefield made it seem some of the children did not experience symptoms until after they'd received their shots. Those findings were repeated in this week's report in BMJ.
Then, last year, the Lancet retracted the Wakefield paper - 12 years after it was published. Wakefield was also stripped of his right to practice medicine in Britain; he has no medical license in the U.S.
This week, Wakefield continued to defend himself, calling the journalist "a hit man" during an interview with CNN. And some parents of autistic children and other advocates argue that the criticisms of Wakefield are actually attempts to close off research into the safety of vaccines.
"A character assassination initiative against those who look for answers only serves to stunt medical progress for our children and perpetuate unnecessary public health risks," said Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association, in a prepared statement.
But health officials counter that the science is settled and prolonging the debate is dangerous. Although U.S. vaccination rates have held steady through the last decade, health officials say vaccine fears led to outbreaks of measles and the virus Hib in 2008 in unvaccinated children in states like California and Minnesota. The Hib outbreak included at least one reported death.
In a country where the name Andrew Wakefield doesn't register with most people, it's not clear that this week's report will make much difference. But perhaps it might have impact if it sways celebrities who have lent their voice to the anti-vaccine movement, like Jenny McCarthy, who has voiced her views repeatedly on television shows like "Oprah."
"It will be interesting to see what Jenny McCarthy and others say" about the latest news, said Smith, the Louisville researcher.
A spokesman for McCarthy on Thursday said she was not available for comment.
Author of landmark vaccine-autism study called a fraud
A second British medical journal discredits the study of the father of the vaccine-autism connection, Dr. Andrew Wakefield. The medical community applauds the action while the autism community calls it a big hoax.
BY SONYA COLBERG Oklahoman
Published: January 7, 2011
The doctor who authored a study linking autism and childhood vaccinations has been discredited by a medical journal a second time. Dr. Andrew Wakefield has been deemed responsible for purposefully creating fraudulent data.
An editorial in a British medical journal called the 1998 study by Wakefield an "elaborate fraud" that ultimately led to parents avoiding measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations in their children for fear of triggering autism. The journal's investigation concluded Wakefield misrepresented or altered the medical histories of the 12 children studied.
His work "was based not on bad science but on a deliberate fraud," Dr. Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal, said in an editorial.
Dr. Don Wilber, a Midwest City pediatrician and chairman of the Oklahoma immunization advisory committee, said the latest action is no surprise.
"I'm glad they did it. It's the only thing that makes sense. A study that Dr. Wakefield did on 12 patients does not lend credible information to our scientific armamentarium (medicine and techniques available to doctors). So it was never credible," Wilber said.
Wilber said as a child, he was hospitalized next to a child with polio and watched as the boy resided in an iron lung until his death.
He said vaccinations are miracles that have virtually wiped out many devastating diseases.
Yet many people in the autism community defend Wakefield.
"There's so much history on Andy Wakefield. His only mistake was locking his suspicion into the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella vaccination)," said Liz Young, part of the Oklahoma City autism community.
Wakefield's work a decade ago galvanized the autism community struggling to find answers to the perplexing rise in autism cases. Autism is now estimated to affect about one in 110 children. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called autism's 57-percent increase in cases from 2002 to 2006 a significant public health issue.
Wayne Rhode, parent of an autistic child, said the criticism of Wakefield is unwarranted.
"I think it's a brilliant strategy on the part of the pharmaceutical industry and medical establishment to strip him of a license and then come back a year later and make him look as if he's a fraud," just as two pro-vaccine books are about to be released, he said.
Before BMJ's announcement and series of reports on Wakefield that began this week, another British journal, the Lancet, discredited Wakefield's work. Ten of the study co-authors withdrew their names and in 2001 the author gave up his British medical license and moved to Austin, Texas. In a move that has occurred only a handful of times in more than 100 years, The Lancet retracted the paper last February.
Wakefield said on CNN Wednesday that the author of the BMJ series, Brian Deer, is a "hit man," who has dogged him for years. As opposed to Deer's findings, Wakefield contends his "grossly distorted" study has been replicated in five countries and that he did not make the diagnosis of autism in his study, which concentrated on a bowel disorder and vaccinations.
The latest criticism of Wakefield's science is seen by others as additional validation that the vaccine-autism connection never existed.
As the father of a son with autism, Don Blose, chief of immunization service for the state Health Department, said he studied the issue of vaccinations and autism closely.
"We knew our child was different long before vaccines," he said. "I knew my son's autism was not vaccines, I knew it had to be something else."
But the study planted doubt in many parents' minds and that doubt will continue to exist for several years, he said.
Dr. Steven Crawford, of OU Medical Center, said the vaccine-autism link has been disputed in numerous scientific papers, though seeing that possible cause unravel is difficult for many.
"It's sad what's happened to people with autism in that they've been led down a path that won't find any solution that way. It's very sad that they keep pursuing that path," he said.
"They have to believe in something that causes children to get autism."
Blose said until scientists find the answer, it will be easy to blame vaccines.
"But no one really knows. It still remains a mystery," he said.
More fuel for the firey debate over autsim and childhood vaccines
Local doctors weigh in on the debate
Last Updated: 10 hours and 37 minutes ago
By: Linda Hurtado
Tampa, Fla - Doctor James Orlowski runs the Pediatric ICU at University Community Hospital. Right now he's treating an infant critically ill with whooping cough, a childhood disease that is preventable with vaccination.
So, the news that a study linking autism to childhood vaccines is an elaborate fraud is welcomed and, in his opinion, long over due. "We see patients every week that don't vaccinate their child just because they're fearful vaccination might cause autism in their child. This pretty much is the crowning blow, the death knoll to the whole hypothesis that there's any relationship between autism and vaccination. For anyone to continue to believe it after this article came out would be an idiot."
And yet, just a few rooms away, another sick baby and a mom who refuses vaccinations - despite Orlowski's advice and this new report.
Amy Peters is the mother of a handful of children. She says, "I think they should not do as many. I think there are some that are unnecessary, I mean it's safe to not bombard the immune system with 33 inoculations or whatever it is right now.
And she's not alone. Many parents of autistic kids truly believe symptoms started after vaccinations. Parents like Deena Rivera. "I have two vaccine-injured children. I saw it for myself. I don't think there's any one thing someone can tell me that's going to change my mind. I'm living it right now."
So what is a parent to believe - and do? Doctor Orlwoski says get your infant vaccinated. Period. And if you skipped vaccines due to autism fears- it's not too late to get them now. "You can always come back and get vaccinated. There's no problem with age. We even vaccinate adults now."
Doctor Nelson Mane, a chiropractic neurologist who treats autistic kids, says if you as a parent or your child has certain risk factors, spread the vaccinations out or delay them. "If you have the risk factors, if you were an older mother, if your child was premature, if he had jaundice when born, all things we know contribute to your child's risk of developing autism, that it's a boy - then you need to be more cautious and discuss shots with your pediatrician."