World media coverage of BMJ "Secrets of the MMR scare" series in January 2011

This page is material from the award-winning investigation by Brian Deer for The Sunday Times of London, the UK’s Channel 4 TV network and BMJ, the British Medical Journal, which exposed vaccine research fraudster Andrew Wakefield | Investigation summary

In January 2011, Deer's investigation reached its climax when the BMJ ran a three-part series, supported by editorials, titled "Secrets of the MMR scare", which brought together many of Deer's findings. Hundreds of media organisations reported the first story.

The New York Times: Autism Fraud

The report that first triggered scares that a vaccine to prevent measles, mumps and rubella might cause autism in children has received another devastating blow to its credibility. The British Medical Journal has declared that the research was not simply bad science, as has been known for years, but a deliberate fraud.

The study, led by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was published in The Lancet in 1998. It was based on just 12 children with supposedly autismlike disorders and purported to find a link between the vaccine, the gastrointestinal problems found in many autistic children, and autism.

While parents around the world were understandably alarmed, many scientists rejected the claims, including, eventually, 10 of Dr. Wakefield’s co-authors. A high-level British medical group, after an exhaustive fitness-to-practice hearing, found Dr. Wakefield guilty of dishonesty and misconduct. The Lancet retracted the article in part, it said, because the authors had made false claims about how the study was conducted.

Now the British Medical Journal has taken the extraordinary step of publishing a lengthy report by Brian Deer, the British investigative journalist who first brought the paper’s flaws to light — and has put its own reputation on the line by endorsing his findings.

After seven years of studying medical records and interviewing parents and doctors, Mr. Deer concluded that the medical histories of all 12 children had been misrepresented to make the vaccine look culpable. Time lines, for example, were fudged to make it seem as though autismlike symptoms developed shortly after vaccination, while in some cases problems developed before vaccination and in others months after vaccination.

Dr. Wakefield has accused Mr. Deer of being a hit man. But the medical journal compared the claims with evidence compiled in the voluminous transcript of official hearings and declared that flaws in the paper were not honest mistakes but rather an “elaborate fraud.”

Some parents still consider Dr. Wakefield a hero, and others have moved on to other theories, equally unsupported by scientific evidence, as to how vaccines might cause autism.

They need to recognize that failure to vaccinate their children leaves them truly vulnerable to diseases that can cause enormous harm.

Online: January 12 2011. Print: January 13 2011 (Page A22)

The Wall Street Journal: The Autism Vaccine Hoax

A tragic scare campaign is exposed as 'fraud'.

Twelve years late, the media and medical community may finally be digging a grave for one of the more damaging medical scares in history. We're speaking of the vaccines-cause-autism panic, the burial of which cannot come too soon.

The British Medical Journal this week published an article and editorial explaining that the 1998 study that provoked the vaccine scare was an "elaborate fraud." That study, published in the (once) respected journal "The Lancet," was by British doctor Andrew Wakefield and other researchers, who claimed that the widely used measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was linked to autism. Around the same time, U.S. parents and opportunistic lawyers latched on to a related theory that vaccination shots containing a mercury compound called thimerosal caused autism.

Despite broad evidence even in the 1990s that these claims were unfounded, the medical community was slow to push back. Nervous public-health groups inspired a panic by rushing to get thimerosal out of vaccines. The Lancet stuck by its article, the media sensationalized the story, and Congress joined the cause celebre. Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins went so far as to kill a vaccine liability provision so that parents could bring thimerosal suits. Indiana Republican Dan Burton was especially irresponsible in raising public fears.

By 2004, Britain's immunization rates had dropped to a low of 80%; the rates have recovered only slightly. The Centers for Disease Control says that in the U.S. 40% of parents have delayed or declined at least one of their children's shots. This has led to the needless re-emergence of once-conquered diseases.

Measles is now endemic in England and Wales. California recently suffered a whooping cough outbreak that sickened 7,800 people and killed 10 babies. As Paul Offit, the chief of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and one of the few who stood up against the autism scare, writes in his new book "Deadly Choices," the victims of this "war on science" are children.

Researchers have all the while continued to churn out studies disproving the vaccine-autism link. Vaccine courts have struck down thimerosal claims. Yet it is only recently that professional journals and media have rediscovered a responsibility gene.

It took the Lancet until last year to offer a full retraction of the 1998 study, and that came only after Britain's medical regulator had ruled that Mr. Wakefield had acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly." The British Medical Journal's article is the first in-depth look at Mr. Wakefield's abuses. By journalist Brian Deer—who has investigated Mr. Wakefield for years—the article reports that the doctor grossly misrepresented the cases of 12 children to support his theory, and that he worked with plaintiffs attorneys to exploit the panic for financial gain.

This is a start, but the health community and media have a long way to go to restore public trust in immunizations. They also bear some responsibility for the dollars that have been diverted from research into finding the real causes of the terrible affliction that is autism. Let's hope they now broadcast the vaccine truth as much as they encouraged the vaccine panic.

8 January 2011

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