Lancet Study Tying Childhood Vaccine to Autism Was `Fraud,' Report Says

A Lancet study linking vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella to autism was a fraud that endangered hundreds of thousands of children, according to a report in the British Medical Journal.

Each of the dozen cases included in the study led by Andrew Wakefield at the Royal Free Hospital in London and published in 1998 in the Lancet was misrepresented or altered, journalist Brian Deer wrote today in the BMJ. There’s “no doubt” the fraud originated with Wakefield, BMJ editors concluded after reviewing Deer’s work.

Today’s report is the latest to discredit Wakefield’s research. Ten of his paper’s 12 coauthors backed away in 2004 from the suggestion that autism and bowel disease were linked to the common childhood vaccine. The Lancet retracted the study last year, saying some of the claims “have been proven to be false.”

The Lancet retraction left “the door open for those who want to continue to believe that the science, flawed though it always was, still stands,” BMJ editors wrote in an editorial accompanying Deer’s report. “We hope that declaring the paper a fraud will close that door for good.”

Phone calls to Skyhorse Publishing of New York, publisher of Wakefield’s book “Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines -- The Truth Behind a Tragedy,” weren’t answered. The publisher didn’t immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

Three of the nine children reported with autism had never been diagnosed with the disorder, according to the investigation published today. Wakefield had claimed that all 12 children were normal, and the review found that five had pre-existing developmental problems.

Immunization rates fell in the U.K. to about 80 percent by 2004, from 92 percent nine years earlier, as parents concerned that the treatment was risky refused vaccine, according to the Health Protection Agency. In 2008, measles was declared endemic in England and Wales for the first time in 14 years, the BMJ said.

The Sunday Times of London and Channel 4 television network funded the investigation, and the BMJ commissioned and paid for the reports published in the journal.

To contact the reporter on this story: Naomi Kresge in Berlin at nkresge@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at pserafino@bloomberg.net

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