The debate continues regarding routine childhood vaccines and their possible link to autism. Many parents are concerned about having their infants and toddlers receive the recommended inoculations. However, a recent study retraction by the medical publication The Lancet may help individuals make more informed decisions regarding their children's health, especially about the MMR shot.
In February 2010, The Lancet retracted a controversial 1998 paper that linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism. The study was discredited by further research, and it was determined that the lead doctor on the study, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, had acted unethically. Investigations revealed that Wakefield had chosen a biased selection of patients.
Wakefield has denied any wrongdoing in a written statement and claims his Lancet paper never definitively said that MMR vaccines cause autism. He is quoted as saying, "The Lancet paper does not claim to confirm a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Research into that possible connection is still going on."
Many parents who have held off on the MMR vaccine for their children or denied it entirely have quoted the 1998 paper as part of their reasoning. Wakefield surmised that it wasn't exactly the MMR vaccine that caused the autism in his studies, but a gastrointestinal reaction to the shot that led to autism. According to Wakefield, "the virus used in the vaccine grew in the intestinal tract, leading the bowel to become porous because of inflammation. Then material seeped from the bowel into the blood affecting the nervous system and causing autism." This theory has been since discredited.
Columbia University, Massachusetts General Hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have since replicated parts of Wakefield's paper and found no correlation to GI problems or subsequent autism. Since Wakefield's study in 1998, more than 20 other studies have been conducted around the world finding no correlation between MMR vaccines and autism.
Parents who are still concerned about vaccines should always discuss their anxiety with their children's pediatrician. He or she can offer the most up-to-date information about childhood vaccines and potential side effects.
The CDC urges parents to remember that vaccines are generally safe and should be an important part of children's well visits.