The study, conducted by disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield, claimed that the MMR vaccine was the “apparent precipitating event” for a syndrome of bowel problems and regressive autism. It is now clear that this paper was a fraud.
There was deep scientific skepticism about this study when it was first published. It involved only a small group of children (12) and the results were not supported by many subsequent studies looking at much larger groups of children.
In 2004 most of the other authors of the study retracted the supposed findings but Wakefield remained unrepentant. Last year the medical journal The Lancet fully retracted the paper after it was found that Wakefield had acted unethically, performing invasive procedures on children for which he did not have permission, which in most cases were found not be in the children's best clinical interest (amongst other things).
However, it gets worse, a long running investigation by journalist Brian Deer published in the British Medical Journal shows that the many of the papers results were falsified. Simply put, the conclusions of the study were not true. They were based on fraudulent data. Wakefield had changed diagnoses and misreported patient histories to create the data (and story) he wanted (see summary at the bottom).
And what of the consequences? Wakefield's fraudlent "study" lead to significant opposition to vaccinations, leading to falling vaccination rates and a lowering of the both individual and so called "herd immunity" we use to keep a number of diseases at bay. Hundreds of thousands of children in the UK alone are unprotected. Although we won't know the full impact for some time, some things are clear, lack of vaccination will lead to sickness (and death) from diseases which are completely preventable. And despite having his medical license revoked and being exposed as a fraud Wakefield continues to peddle his pseudoscience to venerable parents, seeking answers for why their child has autism. What a disgrace.
The summary from Brain Deer's article:
The Lancet paper was a case series of 12 child patients; it reported a proposed “new syndrome” of enterocolitis and regressive autism and associated this with MMR as an “apparent precipitating event.” But in fact:
Three of nine children reported with regressive autism did not have autism diagnosed at all. Only one child clearly had regressive autism
Despite the paper claiming that all 12 children were “previously normal,” five had documented pre-existing developmental concerns
Some children were reported to have experienced first behavioural symptoms within days of MMR, but the records documented these as starting some months after vaccination
In nine cases, unremarkable colonic histopathology results—noting no or minimal fluctuations in inflammatory cell populations—were changed after a medical school “research review” to “non-specific colitis”
The parents of eight children were reported as blaming MMR, but 11 families made this allegation at the hospital. The exclusion of three allegations—all giving times to onset of problems in months—helped to create the appearance of a 14 day temporal link
Patients were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners, and the study was commissioned and funded for planned litigation"