Wakefield autism study declared 'elaborate fraud'

Children with autistic disorder fail to develop peer relationships.
Children with autistic disorder fail to develop peer relationships.

Specific details revealing exactly how now-debarred doctor, Andrew Wakefield, falsified data to link the measles mumps and rubella vaccine and autism will be published in the British Medical Journal during the next two weeks.

“Clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare,” the journal's editors wrote in an editorial published this week along with the first article in the three-part series.

Since the study's initial publication in 1998, Lancet has officially retracted the findings, numerous studies have debunked its claims and the British General Medical Council has declared Wakefield unethical and banned him from practice in the United Kingdom.

Yet despite these developments, many parents remain hesitant to vaccinate their children — a problem BMJ editors hope to help resolve by presenting peer reviewed evidence against the Wakefield study, compiled from interviews, documents and data gathered by investigative journalist Brian Deer.

The Wakefield study's chief claim was that 10 of 12 consecutive child patients who attended a pediatric gastroenterology clinic at the Royal Free Hospital, in London, had a “new syndrome,” consisting of regressive autism and enterocolitis and experienced declining behavior within 14 days of receiving the MMR vaccine.

However, Deer explains that none of the patient characteristics reported in the Wakefield study match up with the patients' previous medical histories:

  • Although the study said that nine children had regressive autism, only one child met criteria for this classification, and three did not have an autism diagnosis at all.
  • Five children had documented preexisting developmental concerns before receiving the MMR vaccine despite claims in the paper that all 12 children were previously normal.
  • The study stated that some children experienced behavioral symptom onset days after receiving MMR, but records document that symptoms did not begin until months after vaccination.
  • The study reported that the parents of eight children made allegations that the MMR vaccine was to blame for behavioral symptoms, when in fact, 11 families made these allegations. Deer purports that three parent allegations were excluded because they reported symptom onset in months rather than days or weeks after vaccination. This helped Wakefield create a 14-day temporal link between behavioral symptoms and the vaccine.
  • Patient records that showed unremarkable colonic histopathology were pulled for “research review” and changed to “non-specific colitis.”

 In addition to these discrepancies, Deer purports that anti-MMR campaigners recruited participants, resulting in selection bias, and that the study was “commissioned and funded for planned litigation.”

The BMJ editors concluded that the Wakefield paper “was in fact an elaborate fraud.”

“A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross,” they wrote.

Parts two and three of the series will explore the perpetuation of such a fraud in the medical community, what could have been done to expose it earlier and ways to prevent similar situations in the future.

Loading links....
You must be a registered member of Clinical Advisor to post a comment.
close

Next Article in Web Exclusives

Sign Up for Free e-newsletters