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Andrew Wakefield and Fraud in the Anti-vaccine Movement

Published: January 24, 2011

Last February, Lancet, the distinguished British medical journal, formally retracted a 1998 article by Dr. Andrew Wakefield. In the article, Dr. Wakefield suggested a possible link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccines and autism. The journal noted that several elements of the study were incorrect. The retraction came in the wake of a study by the U.K. General Medical Council revealing that Wakefield may have committed ethical breaches as well as selection bias in his choice of participants.

Though a vaccine-autism link has been repudiated by over 100 subsequent studies, this has not stopped parents all over the world from halting their children’s vaccinations with MMR and other vaccines. There is no doubt that the lack of vaccinations contributed to California’s recent outbreak of Whooping Cough, with 8,000 confirmed cases and at least 10 deaths reported.

The matter now looks even more sordid given publication some weeks back of an editorial in the British Medical Journal which accuses Wakefield of fraud. The editorial authors wrote that “clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare.” The editorial states that Wakefield stood to gain financially from his purported findings, owing to the fact that he had been hired as a consultant by lawyers trying to sue vaccine manufacturers. His compensation, they noted, was about $750,000.

For his part Wakefield had denied any fraud, wrongdoing, or data falsification, but did move from the UK to the USA after losing his British medical license. He continued to warn the public against vaccinations at an autism conference in San Diego last July.

Despite Wakefield’s multiple censures and medical evidence showing that vaccines are safe, the “controversy” continues to stymie public health efforts to get children vaccinated, with sometimes deadly results.

That is sad, to say the least.