As pediatricians our greatest duty is to care for our patients and look out for their overall well-being and development. Vaccinating children against preventable childhood illnesses is part of this duty. It is not only our responsibility to our individual patients, but to the greater community as well. Therefore, educating parents about the risks and benefits of vaccines is essential and allows a family to make informed decisions.
However, with so much knowledge gleaned from the media and internet, information about vaccines can be quite varied. Doctors have traditionally been the source of vaccine knowledge, but more often TV, internet and our friends provide this information. Although these sources are rich in content, they are not always validated and can be blatantly false.
One of the most widely misrepresented health topics recently has been the concern over a link between Autism and the MMR Vaccine. I would like to share the following article which highlights local experts responses to the recent report that ‘data linking vaccines to autism was fraudulent.’
Santa Barbara News Press
January 7, 2011
Experts hope for better autism research after a British reporter concluded that information was doctored for a 1998 study suggesting a link between the disorder and a childhood vaccine.
When Brian Deer analyzed the study by Andrew Wakefield and his associates alongside the subjects’ medical records, he found several instances of doctored research, The Associated Press reported Thursday, including contradictions between hospital records and reported diagnoses.
The study has long been discredited by the scientific community. Lancet, the medical journal the paper ran in, later retracted it, and 10 of the study’s 13 authors eventually renounced it.
But Mr. Deer’s investigation suggests the paper was not just invalid, but fraudulent.
Robert Koegel, director of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s world-renowned Koegel Autism Center, said he hopes laying to rest suspicion of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine will encourage researchers to investigate other possible causes of autism that have received less attention and funding.
“It might be better for everybody,” Dr. Koegel said, adding that the benefit to research might outweigh the disruption caused by Mr. Wakefield’s study.
“The scientific community is a little bit upset with Wakefield because he’s caused such a big controversy here,” Dr. Koegel said, “but we might find it’s actually a good thing.”
While no one knows what causes autism, new research suggests genetics may be a factor, Dr. Koegel said. One theory is that the disorder may be linked to the same genes that produce genius, suggesting that autistic children may simply have “too much of a good thing.”
Because autistic children tend to be extremely bright, Mr. Koegel said it makes sense that two intelligent parents might potentially have a child with overdeveloped genius and underdeveloped social and communication skills.
In addition to using valuable research time and funding on what turned out to be a false issue, Mr. Wakefield’s article sparked deep mistrust of the MMR vaccine in parents all over the world.
“All of a sudden parents all over the world were reluctant to give their children the MMR vaccines,” said Dr. Koegel. “Then it turned out the study didn’t have any substance to it.”
Dr. Lynn Koegel, director of autism services at the Koegel Autism Center and wife of Robert Koegel, said Mr. Deer’s investigation shows how important good documentation and sound data are to any scientific study.
False research, whether fraudulent or simply badly conducted, costs families of autistic children a great deal of time and stress over treatments that don’t help their children, she sad.
The negative attention also casts doubt on the credibility of valid research, slowing down the process of finding real answers.
In the case of Mr. Wakefield’s study, she said the greatest casualty has been parents’ reluctance to vaccinate their children. Fear of autism has lead many to expose their children to deadly childhood diseases.
She said there was a noticeable rise in occurrences of measles, mumps, and rubella around the world after Mr. Wakefield’s study spooked parents. Some of those cases resulted in deaths that could have been prevented by vaccination.
Dr. Charish Barry, a Santa Barbara pediatrician at Cottage Children’s Hospital and Petite Pediatrics, said she has noticed the effects of that mistrust in her own practice.
“I’ve seen locally that there’s still a general fear that parents have in terms of administering vaccines,” Dr. Barry said.
That reluctance has paved the way for several outbreaks of the measles in California and across the country as recently as last year.
“As a pediatrician, in our community we need to help educate parents that it’s safe and it’s important for children,” Dr. Barry said.
The most recent finding is noteworthy because the information, which she and other pediatricians across the country have long fought, has been proven false to the public, she said.
“I certainly encourage parents to vaccinate their children.”
Fortunately, she has seen a trend among her patients’ parents to seek out correct information about MMR shots and autism in recent years.
“Ultimately it’s the parents’ choice,” she said. “I’m confident in saying that, no, there’s no study proving it does cause autism.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.