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British Medical Journal details Andrew Wakefield's vaccine/autism fraud

In the British Medical Journal, Brian Deer provides extraordinary detail of the extent of fraud in Andrew Wakefield's paper, which, at the behest of trial lawyers, created a gigantic anti-vaccine scare that persists to this day, with untold numbers of measles cases resulting. Can you imagine the fuss if a doctor paid by a pharmaceutical company falsified study results for the profit of that corporation with adverse health effects? No signs of any class actions against trial lawyers or Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., though.

The Lancet paper was a case series of 12 child patients; it reported a proposed "new syndrome" of enterocolitis and regressive autism and associated this with MMR as an "apparent precipitating event." But in fact:

  • Three of nine children reported with regressive autism did not have autism diagnosed at all. Only one child clearly had regressive autism

  • Despite the paper claiming that all 12 children were "previously normal," five had documented pre-existing developmental concerns

  • Some children were reported to have experienced first behavioural symptoms within days of MMR, but the records documented these as starting some months after vaccination

  • In nine cases, unremarkable colonic histopathology results--noting no or minimal fluctuations in inflammatory cell populations--were changed after a medical school "research review" to "non-specific colitis"

  • The parents of eight children were reported as blaming MMR, but 11 families made this allegation at the hospital. The exclusion of three allegations--all giving times to onset of problems in months--helped to create the appearance of a 14 day temporal link

  • Patients were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners, and the study was commissioned and funded for planned litigation.

Update: Daniel Fisher independently makes the same point at Forbes; and Jonathan Adler @ Volokh has more links and quotes.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.