You are The autism-vaccine lie that won't die The autism-vaccine lie that won't die

08 February 2010

Printer-friendly version

Rahul K. Parikh, M.D. writes on

The media trumpeted an irresponsible study, ensuring that its nasty legacy thrives

Feb. 05, 2010

This week, Dr. Andrew Wakefield's now infamous study linking the MMR vaccine to autism was finally retracted by the prestigious Lancet medical journal. The move came days after medical officials in the United Kingdom found the doctor guilty of multiple ethics violations. For doctors, this is a victory -- but a bittersweet one.

As a pediatrician, I grapple daily with what Wakefield wrought: parents who are twisted in knots -- to the point of tears -- about whether to immunize their child. In the 12 years since the publication of Wakefield's study, 10 of his fellow co-authors have denounced him, and an unremitting series of revelations have exposed just how corrupt his motives and methods were. Most important, multiple studies verified there is no link between the MMR (or any other) vaccine and autism. Meanwhile, infectious diseases once confined to medical history have broken out in our communities. To say the retraction is criminally overdue is an understatement.

Further, even as Wakefield's research is expunged from the scientific record, what he spawned -- a well-funded, vocal, even rabid movement -- will remain. Without him, poster girl Jenny McCarthy would have been abandoned in the MTV archives instead of smugly crowing to Time magazine, "I do believe sadly it's going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it's their f___ing fault that the diseases are coming back. They're making a product that's s___ ." And anti-vaccine darling David Kirby would split his time between running a P.R. firm and writing pithy articles about art and aircraft instead of turning speculation and rumor into a Kennedy-esque vaccine-autism conspiracy theory. Finally, Wakefield himself stands to be completely unaffected by both the U.K. medical community (which could revoke his license to practice there) and the Lancet's decision. He long ago settled here in the U.S. and successfully peddles his views through his Thoughtful House autism center in Texas.Still, while the media busily finger-wagged, blogged and tweeted about the damnation of Andrew Wakefield, I wondered whether it considered its own complicity in the whole sordid affair.

The anti-vaccine hysteria, after all, began like so many other big stories: with a press conference. That's where Andrew Wakefield first staked his claim that the MMR vaccine caused autism, according to Paul Offit's book, "Autism's False Prophets." Wakefield wasn't flanked by doctors or hospital officials but by P.R. folks he had hired himself. "One case of [autism] is too many," he said. "It's a moral issue for me, and I can't support the continued use of [the MMR vaccine] until this issue has been resolved."

The problem, of course, is that a news conference loads a gun that the media usually pulls the trigger on: Headlines like "Ban Three-in-One Jab, Doctors Urge" started rolling off the presses. While measles made a tragic resurgence, few reporters attempted to scrutinize Wakefield or his audacious claim. (Even Salon has its own history of bad reporting on the topic, in a controversial and inaccurate 2005 piece by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.)

Read the full article on


House of Numbers

An AIDS denialist film "House of Numbers" is doing the rounds at film festivals and is being promoted to college campuses and similar venues. AT has published several items about the misinformation contained in the film. For comprehensive information on the lies and distortions in the film, visit Inside House of Numbers.


To be alerted to new posts, enter your email address:


RSS feed icon RSS feed