HEALTH -- January 6, 2011 at 5:38 PM ET
Journal: Study That Linked Vaccine and Autism Was 'Fraudulent'
A study that linked the Measles, Mumps & Rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism was "fraudulent," and based on manipulated data and patient records, according to an investigation published Thursday in the British Medical Journal.
It may be the final death knell for the 1998 study that claimed the link. In February of this year the study was retracted by the Lancet, the journal that originally published the research. And in May, British authorities revoked the medical license of the study's lead author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield.
Wakefield's study of 12 children suggested that the MMR vaccine could cause children to develop autism. It sparked worldwide concern and prompted some parents to forgo the vaccine for their children. That is believed to be part of the cause of a growing number of measles outbreaks in the U.S. and worldwide, a problem the NewsHour reported on in 2008.
The new article, by investigative journalist Brian Deer, contends that the original study wasn't just inaccurate -- it was fraudulent. Deer reported for the article by talking to the parents of the children involved in the study and comparing the children's medical records to their symptoms as reported in the study.
He found that -- although the paper claimed that all 12 of the children had been normal until they received the vaccine -- in fact five of them had had documented developmental concerns before receiving it. He also found that the study claimed that the children began showing behavioral symptoms of autism "days" after being vaccinated, but in several cases the symptoms started months later.
On Thursday, Wakefield defended his work on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," saying that Deer was "a hit man. He's been brought in to take me down." In a statement, Wakefield also points out that the study had ethics committee approval.
But the British Medical Journal's editors say that the new investigation provides enough evidence to "close the door" on further debate.
"The Lancet paper has of course been retracted, but for far narrower misconduct than is now apparent," BMJ editor Fiona Godlee wrote. "The retraction statement cites the GMC's findings that the patients were not consecutively referred and the study did not have ethical approval, leaving the door open for those who want to continue to believe that the science, flawed though it always was, still stands. We hope that declaring the paper a fraud will close that door for good."