1998 Study Linking Autism to Vaccines Was an 'Elaborate Fraud'

A landmark study linking the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism was "an elaborate fraud," according to a new article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

The original study, published in 1998 in the journal Lancet by former doctor Andrew Wakefield, was retracted in February of last year because several elements of the article were found to be incorrect.

But the new findings showed the original study got more than just a few things wrong it found that Wakefield conducted deliberate fraud by changing and falsifying the medical information of the 12 study subjects so that a link between autism and the vaccine would appear real.

In 2004, many of Wakefield's co-researchers withdrew their names as authors of the 1998 study after it was discovered that Wakefield had been paid by a law firm that was looking to sue the vaccine manufacturer.

Wakefield was stripped of his medical license in May of last year by the British Medical General Council.

"Clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare," Dr. Fiona Godlee, BMJ editor-in-chief, said in a statement.

British journalist Brian Deer rebutted the original study with seven years' of his own investigative research; the BMJ subjected Deer's work to peer review before publishing his findings.

Wakefield's original study set off a wave of research to confirm the link between autism and the MMR vaccine, which contained the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal. The Food and Drug Administration recommended the removal of thimerosal from vaccines in 1999 as a precautionary measure, although studies by the administration were unable to find a link between vaccines and autism symptoms.

In the years since, a number of other studies have been published debunking the link between autism and MMR vaccines . A 2002 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, which followed more than 500,000 Danish children for seven years, found no association between autism and the vaccine.

A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2003 also found no link between autism and vaccines among children in Sweden or Denmark. Additionally, a 2007 study of 1,046 children in the New England Journal of Medicine found no link, nor did a 2008 study of 38 children in the journal PloS ONE.

Most recently, a study published in the journal Pediatrics in October 2010 that studied 256 children who were diagnosed with autism and 752 children who did not have autism found no link between vaccines and the onset of autism.

Pass it on: The BMJ has declared the 1998 study that linked autism with the MMR vaccine an "elaborate fraud."

Reach MyHealthNewsDaily staff writer Amanda Chan on Twitter @AmandaLChan.

Amanda Chan
Amanda Chan was a staff writer for Live Science Health. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.