How the vaccine and autism scare was a fraud to make money

Most parents and all pediatricians are aware of the 1998 study published in The Lancet by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that mentioned a causal link between measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine and the increased incidence of childhood  autism.  It shook the medical community and created an international movement of parents questioning the extensive combination of immunizations that are given to children.  Could these immunizations be the cause of the increase in autism cases we have seen since the 1960s?

In 2010, The Lancet formally retracted the link from the study and 10 of the original authors denounced it,  but that didn’t make top news.  The movement, now has a celebrity spokesperson in Jenny McCarthy, and more and more stories of children who were perfect before the vaccine and then suddenly regressed.

Now the British Medical Journal has published a series of articles that shows how Wakefield, now 54, was judged by a five member panel to be guilty of some 30 charges, including four counts of dishonesty and 12 of causing children to be subjected to invasive procedures that were clinically unjustified.  Dr. John Walker-Smith, 74, professor of pediatric gastroenterology and  a collaborator of Wakefield,  was deemed irresponsible and unethical also as they developed their theory together and trolled the halls and clinics for patients they could investigate and then report had developed bowel symptoms after vaccines.

Around the same time,  Dr. Wakefield and several business colleagues launched a business venture that would sell diagnostic tests for vaccine-induced diseases and transfer factor-based vaccines and therapies. The BMJ authors found that a prospectus distributed to potential investors said the venture was expected to make more than $40 million within three years.  In addition, Wakefield received more than $650,000 from lawyers trying to build a case against vaccine manufacturers.  The same lawyers funded his clinical research that was later published, (and never duplicated),  an unbelievable conflict of interest and frankly fraudulent.

The fantastic investigative reporting in BMJ ends with a very nice timeline so you can see the events that started the vaccine scare in 1998 and where it ended up today.  In the meantime, Dr. Wakefield became a very rich man.

“The MMR scare was based not on bad science but on a deliberate fraud,” BMJ Editor-in-Chief Fiona Godlee said in a prepared statement, “Such clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare.”

It is a sad black mark on science and it shows again the corruptive influence of money, greed, power, anecdotal reporting by the press, bad peer review by professional journals,  and just plain fraud and how it can influence decades of patient care.   Here we are 13 years later and thousands of parents are afraid of vaccinating their children because of this fraudulent scheme.

Always remember that science is an evolving, changing field.  One study or one case is not proof of anything.  There are no wonder drugs.  There are few (or no)  simple answers to complex questions in life.

Toni Brayer is an internal medicine physician who blogs at EverythingHealth.

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  • doc99

    “The MMR scare was based not on bad science but on a deliberate fraud,” This storry eerily parallels the current Global Warming/Carbon Credit scams.

    Hide the decline, indeed.

    • gzuckier

      yeah, or the myth that smoking is bad for you.

  • http://abnormalfacies.wordpress.com/ Jim

    I believe “thousands” is too conservative an estimate. The only thing to do now is to make sure the story of Dr. Wakefield is circulated as much as possible to undo some of the damage.

    Love your blog Dr. Brayer!

  • SmartDoc

    The trila lawyer industry is nothing if not endlessly corrupt, heartless, and ultimately murderous.

  • paul

    and yet i know people who are still convinced that there is a link between vaccines and autism. i guess like any other religion, when your faith is tested it only gets stronger.

  • Anirudh

    The timing of the vaccine administration in children and the appearance of the autistic symptoms was the major factor that created all the buzz. The parents started noticing autististic features in their children and anxiously attributed it to the vaccine. There is still no evidence to link them but I know that some groups will still be ready to defend the theory tooth and nail.

  • doctor

    Interesting information. I was not aware of all of the financial benefits that came to Wakefield.

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