Vaccines and autism – are they linked?

Do vaccines cause autism?
SIMPLIFIED EXPLANATION

There is a belief that certain vaccines cause autism. To understand the origin of this belief, we need to go back to 1998. A study by Dr. Wakefield claimed that there was a link between vaccines and autism. It was later discovered that this study was a vast fraud dominated by money. Dr. Wakefield wanted to sell his own vaccine, so he lied about it. By the time the truth was discovered, it was too late, the damage had been done and many people still believe Dr. Wakefield despite all the evidence.

In the world of modern medicine, few debates have captivated the general public as much as the one surrounding vaccines and autism. Concerned parents, heated debates on social media, and even celebrities speaking out on the subject continue to divide: can vaccines really cause autism?

No, vaccines cannot cause autism. But if that’s the case, why are so many people still convinced that they do? The answer is simple: it’s all the fault of one man, Andrew Wakefield.

The Andrew Wakefield fraud saga

Let’s take a trip back in time to the late 90s. It was a positive time in the medical world. Vaccines were on the rise, and a number of serious diseases were on the decline, thanks to them. Vaccines were considered miracles, until something happened.

The study that changed everything

In 1998, Dr Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist, published a study in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. It involved just 12 children, but what it proposed was explosive. The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine was possibly linked to autism and behavioral disorders.

Faced with such important news, the media reacted strongly and spread the word en masse. Dr. Wakefield was seen as a whistle-blowing hero. The consequences were immediate: worried parents began refusing vaccines. Measles epidemics broke out, affecting thousands of children. People died.

The first flaws in the study

The first problems with Dr. Wakefield’s study soon became apparent.

The truth is out

A journalist, Brian Deer, from London’s Sunday Times decided to investigate the study in depth. What he discovered was terrifying. It wasn’t just scientific negligence or a botched study, but a huge lie, manipulation and conflict of interest.

Further information

What is a conflict of interest?

A conflict of interest occurs when a person or organization is involved in several activities or relationships, and one of these activities or relationships may inappropriately influence decisions or behavior in the other. Here's an example. Imagine you are the referee of a soccer match in which your brother or sister is playing. Even if you try to be impartial, people might think you're favoring your brother or sister during the match. In this case, there's a conflict of interest, as your family relationship could influence (or appear to influence) your ability to referee the match fairly.

Lie No. 1

The children in the study were not random cases. They had been recruited by lawyers seeking to sue vaccine manufacturers. These lawyers paid the researcher, Dr. Wakefield. Of course, he kept this transaction secret. He used the money to fund the study, which created a huge conflict of interest.

Lie No. 2

The Wakefield data were, in many cases, falsified (faked) or manipulated. Some children had shown signs of autism before receiving the vaccine, and some were not even autistic.

Lie No. 3

Dr Wakefield had in fact filed a patent for a competing vaccine before his article was published in The Lancet. If his strategy had worked, he could have become immensely wealthy. The whole thing was about money.

Deer’s investigation lasted for years, as Wakefield’s supporters accused him of conspiracy. Every step of the way, Deer persisted, amassing more evidence to bring out the truth.

The consequences for Wakefield

The media

Once Wakefield’s ploy was uncovered, he who had initially been treated as a hero saw the media turn against him. The Lancet officially retracted Wakefield’s study, citing major concerns about ethics and the validity of the results. The retraction stressed that Wakefield’s allegations were “unfounded”.

Other researchers

After the media revealed the deception, other researchers who had been afraid to get involved for fear of reprisals began to denounce him too. His own community turned against him.

Removal from the medical register

In May 2010, the UK General Medical Council (GMC) struck Wakefield off, declaring him “dishonest” and “irresponsible” in his conduct of research. This decision meant that he could no longer practice medicine in the UK. He was struck off.

Consequences for the medical world

Wakefield is considered by many to be the primary cause of vaccine mistrust and the emergence of the anti-vaccination movements despite overwhelming evidence of malpractice, Wakefield has retained a dedicated group of supporters, particularly among certain anti-vaccination communities. Some continue to see him as a “whistle-blower”. The damage was done.

References

The Lancet: This is the medical journal that originally published Wakefield’s study in 1998 and retracted it in 2010. Link to the retraction

British Medical Journal (BMJ): The BMJ has published a series of articles by journalist Brian Deer, who investigated Wake field and highlighted the flaws in his study. Link to one of the articles

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The CDC, a recognized public health agency in the U.S., also provided information on the controversy and reaffirmed the safety of vaccines. This page contains a large number of hyperlinks to various studies confirming that vaccines do not cause autism. Link to CDC page on vaccines and autism

Radio-Canada – When a scientist led the world to believe that vaccines caused autism Link to article

Radio-Canada – An erroneous and fraudulent study Link to article

TLMFNC: The Wakefield scandal Link to article

Valérie Jessica Laporte

Rédactrice et créatrice de contenu en autisme