Oh, that thing about the link between vaccines and autism? Never mind!

My beautician is a conscientious mother who tries to do what is right for her two kids. In January, 2009, she had her second child, a boy. Since then, she has engaged in an ongoing battle with her conscience about whether she should have him on the regular schedule of preventative vaccines for young kids. You see, she has heard rumors and seen rants on the Internet about how vaccines are the cause of autism in children. The last time I talked to her about it, she was still delaying.

The source of the rumors and the concern about a link between vaccines and autism is a study authored by a Dr. Andrew Wakefield and published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, twelve years ago. In his article, Wakefield maintained that he had found such a link. That was enough for some of the paranoiacs who are always looking for conspiracies and postulating that all authority figures are trying to pull the wool over our eyes. That paranoia has been further fed by people like Glenn Beck and Bill Maher who have used their positions on TV to lend whatever credibility they have to it.

Well, now, twelve years later, The Lancet has printed a retraction. They have concluded that Wakefield provided false information in his report and acted with "callous disregard" for the children in the study. That study, by the way, was conducted on only twelve - twelve! - children, and from that meager data, Wakefield drew his sweeping conclusions. Other researchers have tried to replicate his study without success. The whole thing was a farce. The only question is whether Wakefield, who now practices medicine in Austin, knew that it was a farce or whether he was just careless and incompetent. Either way he has a lot to answer for.

Because his study gave the imprimature of acceptance by the conservative field of medicine, many parents believed that they would be endangering their children by getting them vaccinated. And so, they didn't. Consequently, some of those children did get measles, mumps, rubella, or pertussis. Some of them died and others suffered complications from the diseases. I had measles and whooping cough when I was a child, before there were vaccines widely available for those two diseases. I nearly died. Those are not illnesses I would wish on any child.

And what about the children whose parents did have them vaccinated and who were later diagnosed as autistic? Imagine the hurt, guilt, and anger those poor parents must feel when confronted with the "facts" of the link between vaccines and autism.

Yes, Wakefield has quite a lot to answer for, but, of course, the damage is done, and there is no reason to think it will end now. It is unlikely that this report will reach some of the gullible and fearful parents who have already taken or are susceptible to a dose of the snake oil he was selling.

And what about The Lancet? Do they not also bear some responsibility for unleashing this false study on the world and letting it stand for TWELVE LONG YEARS?

Oh, well. Never mind!


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