Clinician's Digest

Clinician's Digest

March/April 2011

On February 28, 1998, a small study of 12 children published in the British medical journal Lancet suggested a link between autism and the mumps-measles-rubella vaccine (MMR). The study, led by gastrointestinal surgeon Andrew Wakefield, confirmed many parents' long-standing suspicions that the vaccine had triggered autism in their children. Since then, many parents have refused the vaccinations. In 2008, for the first time in 14 years, measles was declared endemic in England, and the Centers for Disease Control reported that the first six months of 2008 saw the highest number of measles cases in the United States since 1996.

But subsequent studies by other researchers have failed to support Wakefield's contention, and troubling facts about his study have been brought to light by journalist Brian Deer. Two years prior to his study's publication, Wakefield was hired as a consultant by attorneys filing a suit against the MMR—a fact he failed to disclose—and some of the children in his study were litigants against the MMR manufacturers. Wakefield also was involved in a project to develop and market an alternative vaccine. Concerned about the wide-reaching effects of the study, its lack of replication, and the possible financial conflicts of interest, Royal Free Hospital, where Wakefield was the director of research and had conducted his study, asked him to do a larger study, offering to underwrite the cost. Wakefield refused, was asked to resign from his…

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