This is the latest accepted research paper of, reviewed on 23 February 2019.
It has been requested that the title of this article be changed. Claims of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism have been extensively investigated and found to be false. The link was first suggested in the early 1990s and came to public notice largely as a result of the 1998 Lancet MMR autism fraud, characterised as «perhaps the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years». The claims in the paper were widely reported, leading to a sharp drop in vaccination rates in the UK and Ireland. Richard Horton described it as «utterly false» and said that the journal had been deceived.
In the wake of the measles outbreaks, which occurred in England in 1992, and on the basis of analyses of seroepidemiological data combined with mathematical modeling, British Health authorities predicted a major resurgence of measles in school-age children. Two strategies were then examined: either to target vaccination at all children without a history of prior measles vaccination or to immunize all children irrespective of vaccination history. In April 1994, Richard Barr, a solicitor, succeeded in winning legal aid for the pursuit of a class action lawsuit against the manufacturers of MMR vaccines under the UK Consumer Protection Act 1987. Wakefield’s paper Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children was published in The Lancet on February 28 1998. By the time it was retracted, all authors other than Wakefield had removed their names from the publication. A 2007 editorial in Australian Doctor complained that some journalists had continued to defend Wakefield’s study even after The Lancet had published the retraction by 10 of the study’s 12 original authors, but noted that it was an investigative journalist, Brian Deer, who had played a leading role in exposing weaknesses in the study. A New England Journal of Medicine article examining the history of antivaccinationists said that opposition to vaccines has existed since the 19th century, but «now the antivaccinationists’ media of choice are typically television and the Internet, including its social media outlets, which are used to sway public opinion and distract attention from scientific evidence».
In a January 2011 editorial in The American Spectator, Robert M. Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus, also partly blames the media for presenting a false balance between scientific evidence and people’s personal experiences: «Reporting fell into this ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ fallacy, this notion that if you have two sides that are disagreeing, that means that you should present both of them with equal weight. The original paper has received so much media attention, with such potential to damage public health, that it is hard to find a parallel in the history of medical science. Many other medical frauds have been exposed but usually more quickly after publication and on less important health issues. Concerns have also been raised over the journal peer review system, which largely relies on trust among researchers, and the role of journalists reporting on scientific theories that they «are hardly in a position to question and comprehend». There is no guarantee that debunking research paper of original study is going to sway all parents.
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Medical experts are going to have to work hard to try to undo the damage inflicted by what is apparently a rogue medical researcher whose work was inadequately vetted by a top-ranked international journal. During the 1980s and 1990s, a number of lawsuits were brought against manufacturers of vaccines, alleging the vaccines had caused physical and mental disorders in children. While these lawsuits were unsuccessful, they did lead to a large jump in the costs of the MMR vaccine, and pharmaceutical companies sought legislative protections. In June 2012, a local court in Rimini, Italy, ruled that the MMR vaccination had caused autism in a 15-month-old boy. The court relied heavily on the discredited Lancet paper and largely ignored the scientific evidence presented to it.
There were up to 2002 measles-caused deaths in Japan while there were none in the UK, but the extra deaths were attributed to Japan’s application of the vaccine at a later age. Japan is nowadays the only developed country with large measles epidemics. It has been called a «measles exporter» by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As another consequence of the scare, in 2003, 7 million schoolchildren had not been vaccinated against rubella.
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