Hot off the press: retracted study linking autism to MMR vaccination now declared an “elaborate fraud”.

One of the most controversial health-related subjects of the last 15 years has been the alleged connection between the MMR vaccine and autism.

It all started back in 1998, when Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a study linking autism with MMR in the Lancet.  The results of this study have not been successfully replicated and many official bodies, including the CDC and the NHS , have been vocal about the inexistence of scientific evidence in support of such connection. A trend has, nevertheless, started with parents refusing to let their children be vaccinated against MMR,  causing vaccination compliance rates to drop and the corresponding diseases to outbreak.

If you have clicked the above link to the Lancet study (and if you have been following the latest news) you already know that this study has now been retracted and Andrew Wakefiled (who has no longer the right to practice medicine in the UK) has been accused for fraud, data manipulation and conflicts of interest by the BMJ, after a thorough investigation. For the full story, please click here.

What do you think about these recent developments? Will such strong allegations against the original study make a difference to current anti-MMR vaccination trends or will the fear of a possible causal relationship prevail? How could Public Health professionals deal with such issues?

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7 Responses

  1. Glew says:

    It always amazes me how the profession (medical and/or public health) seems to consistently fail to effectively and timely clear up wild rumours around vaccination. 15 years ago there was MMR and autism; now we have influenza vaccines and … well almost everything: hidden microchip implants, toxins, severe anaphylactic reactions and what not.
    Why, I ask, is communication such a hard task when it comes to health issues. All the good managers are taken by Coca-Cola and Lady Gaga?

  2. thomy tonia says:

    Hi Glew, thank you for your comment!
    In my opinion there are different aspects to the problem:
    a) researchers sometimes fail to accurately or clearly report their results (with the tolerance of some reviewers and journals)
    b) these results and the extent of their effect might not be immediately comprehensible to everyone reading it
    c) media being “interested” in reporting unusual/scary/… news. How boring would it be to hear on prime time news that the influenza vaccine actually works…
    d)(as you mention) health researchers and/or professionals not being quick/efficient/keen enough to act appropriately against such rumors.

    add to that many people’s (kind of) inherent relactance/ suspicion of having chemicals inserted in their body (as it is true that anything could have side effects) plus their need to find someone to blame for various misfortunes and you have the perfect recipe for a “difficult to clear up rumour”. traditionally served with a side dish of horror stories and a garniture of exaggeration.

  3. Glew says:

    I think you have a valid point there. Then the next question could be: where can we “intervene”? Point “c” and especially “d” comes to my mind.
    And when I look back at the last two years’ scandal around the ‘hini’ vaccines I am reinforced in my opinion, that communication with the ‘Public’ must be done prudentially and professionally. I don’t know how it went in other countries, but here in Hungary it (H1N1 vaccination communication) was very sad. It was virtually made into a political brabble when it was not a political matter whatsoever. It was (is) a health matter, within the competencies of health professionals and not that of politicians.

    [By the way: I’m a Public Health Bsc student]

  4. thomy tonia says:

    thank you for your thoughts. one of the interests of this blog is also to see how the same PH issues are dealt with around the world; so your input is interesting.
    feel free to share the link to the blog with your fellow students, we welcome more opinions and thoughts on that and any matter! 🙂

  5. Glew says:

    I am convinced that all my fellow students have the link. There was a message sent out to all of us through my university’s electronic interface. However I’m afraid that many of them would not be interested, or might not be able to find the time… But maybe I’m wrong and they will eventually turn up.

  6. Excellent post! We will be linking to this great post on our site.
    Keep up the good writing.

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