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NEW YORK — A study published in 1998 that led to a controversy over the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine was an “elaborate fraud,” according to a British medical journal.
Writing in the journal, BMJ, journalist Brian Deer reported that British physician Andrew Wakefield altered “numerous facts” about patients’ medical histories in a study he published in The Lancet that linked the MMR vaccine to a supposedly new syndrome of autism and bowel disease in children. The Lancet eventually retracted Wakefield’s study, after numerous subsequent studies found no evidence to corroborate it.
“Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield,” BMJ’s editors wrote in an editorial. “Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest? That he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No.”
The implications of Wakefield’s study and its refutation are enormous. The BMJ editors wrote that, thanks to the hysteria generated by the study, MMR vaccination rates in the United Kingdom dipped to 80% in 2003 and 2004, while the World Health Organization recommends rates of 95%. In 2008, health authorities declared a measles endemic in England and Wales. In Essen, Germany, 71 children at one school contracted mumps; 68 had not been vaccinated due to opposition by parents.