Blasted almost as soon as it was published, a 1998 study linking the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism has still managed to scare off hordes of anxious parents from fully vaccinating their children. Now a new investigative report published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) goes further, saying that the study was not only rife with error, but outright fraud, committed for financial gain.
The new report shows how the study’s author altered facts about his patient’s medical histories so they would fit more neatly with his claims.
“A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross,” wrote BMJ in an accompanying editorial.
In one case, a child was included in the list of children who supposedly started displaying autistic symptoms 1-14 days after they got a MRR vaccine. The study said his showed up a week later. But when the child’s father was tracked down and medical records were checked, it turned out the child’s symptoms started showing up a month before he even received the vaccine.
This wasn’t only the first of several discrepancies found between the timing of symptoms on the medical records and what ended up in the published study. Also, the patients themselves that became part of the study were sent to the doctor by an anti-vaccine campaign called “JABS.”
Later the study’s author attempted to use it as a basis for a class action lawsuit against MMR makers. The lawyer working on his behalf ended up dropping it because he said it would fail on evidence. The study itself was retracted from the journal that published it, and the other 10 authors listed on it withdrew their support after it was published. The study’s author was also stripped of his medical license. The claims made by the study have never been able to be reproduced in any subsequent experiments.
Nonetheless the study’s effects linger, with vaccination rates down and infection rates up. In 2008, for the first time in 14 years, there was a declared measles endemic in England and Wales.
How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed [British Medical Journal]
Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and
pervasive developmental disorder in children (original and ultimately retracted paper) (PDF)