In the research world, getting your paper published by The Lancet is like finding the Holy Grail. Â Papers publishedÂ in The LancetÂ bring enormous implications to the medical world, and enormous dollars to the researchers who strive both to confirm and refute other research findings.Â In 1998, The LancetÂ Â published Dr. Andrew Wakefieldâ€™s paper, laying the cornerstone for the idea that childhood Â MMR vaccinations could increase a childâ€™s risk of developing autism.Â Last week The Lancet retracted the controversial paper.Â
"Following the judgment of the U.K. General Medical Council's Fitness to Practice Panel on Jan. 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect ... in particular, the claims in the original paper that children were 'consecutively referred' and that investigations were 'approved' by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record."
The actual non-politically correct version of the story is most enlightening.Â The UKâ€™s GMC states Wakefield employed â€œdishonesty and misleading conduct" in the research. Â Wakefield knew that around half the children used in his study were involved in a lawsuit looking for MMR vaccination effects.Â No surprise that Dr. Wakefield also failed to disclose he was paid in conjunction with the lawsuit, or that he had a patent related to a new MMR vaccine in development when he submitted the case report for publication.Â Also, while supposedly and reportedly the children were sent to Dr. Wakefieldâ€™s clinic for treatment of stomach problems, some of the children didnâ€™t have stomach issues at all.Â Additional Â research subjects were apparently recruited at a birthday party for Dr. Wakefieldâ€™s child.Â They were each paid five British pounds for their trouble. Â
Wakefield's hypothesis said combining vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella into the well-known MMR vaccine weakened the immune system, damaged the gut, and in turn, led to the development of autism. Although high-quality international studies supported by the CDC and a 2004 review by the Institute of Medicine could not confirm Wakefield's hypothesis, and although many organizations around the world refuted the hypotheses and supposed findings, worried parents and doctors began to refuse MMR vaccines for their children.Â Since this study was published, the percentage of unvaccinated children in the U.S. rose from 0.77 in 1997 to 2.1 percent in 2000.Â Although measles was reported eradicated in the US about the same time, this lower vaccination rate brought back the disease in a 2008 outbreak. At least 131 cases were reported to the CDC, and 11 percent of the cases were hospitalized. A handful of children in Britain died of the measles around the time of the U.S. outbreak.Â Apparently, these deaths and illnesses were needless.Â The vaccines could have saved these childrenâ€™s lives, with no increased risk for autism.Â
Although the implications to a skyrocketing diagnoses rate for autism still remain unknown, one good thing has come from this; Dr. Wakefieldâ€™s studies brought about a much-needed awareness to the general public about Autism, and about vaccination safety (as opposed to dangers).Â One has to wonder whether a statement issued by The Autism Society really covers the heart of the matter, as it "strongly supports funding research into gastrointestinal pathology, as well as any links between this pathology and the symptoms of autism.â€Â