January 6th, 2011
11:28 AM ET

Medical journal: Study linking autism, vaccines is 'elaborate fraud'

CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) - A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines is an "elaborate fraud," according to a medical journal - a charge the physician behind the study vigorously denies.

The British medical journal BMJ, which published the results of its investigation, concluded Dr. Andrew Wakefield misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study - and that there was "no doubt" Wakefield was responsible. The journalist who wrote the BMJ articles said Thursday he believes Wakefield should face criminal charges.

However, Wakefield said his work has been "grossly distorted." Speaking on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," he said Wednesday he is the target of "a ruthless, pragmatic attempt to crush any attempt to investigate valid vaccine safety concerns."

Related video: Autism-vaccine study author defends work

The medical publication says the study has done long-lasting damage to public health.

"It's one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors," Fiona Godlee, BMJ's editor-in-chief, told CNN. "But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data."

Britain stripped Wakefield of his medical license in May.

"Meanwhile, the damage to public health continues, fueled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals and the medical profession," BMJ states in an editorial accompanying the work.

Related video: CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta questions Wakefield

Wakefield dismissed Brian Deer, the writer of the British Medical Journal articles, as "a hit man who has been brought in to take me down" by pharmaceutical interests. Deer has signed a disclosure form stating that he has no financial interest in the business.

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soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    This research came out while my children were small. However, I got all my children all their vaccines, including MMR, because the risk of autism was less than the risk of them getting the diseases the vaccines prevented – typhoid, whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, polio, etc. Yes, I probably would have felt guilty if one of my children had developed autism but I would have felt much guiltier if they had not had the vaccines and contracted the diseases and died. Nothing is fail-safe; there is always risk; you just have to pick as well as you can and hope for the best.

    January 6, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  2. Dr. Judy Illes

    Hello Anderson Cooper and Sanja Gupta,

    Interesting coverage last night about the Wakefield study.

    There is a point you haven't made yet that is important to this remarkably still evolving news story: people flock to hope, and this could not be more true than for people and their families affected by disorders of the brain.

    The Wakefield study, as flawed as it may have been, offered a glimmer of hope. Its impact was a potential public health disaster, but it is not the first time we have seen this in neuroscience.

    Good science, good communication, and good public understanding – all critical to ensure that hype doesn't trump hope.

    Dr. Judy Illes, Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics
    The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

    January 6, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  3. teresa, ohio

    really now, who do we believe? the doctor or the british medical journal?

    how bout we believe NEITHER?

    I do however believe all the moms and dads who watched the demise of their children right after their vaccinations. genetic mutations...

    January 6, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  4. Kim

    Not sold ! Listen to the mom's and their experiences with mercury and these vaccines.

    January 6, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  5. tim

    Anderson, I watch your show all the time and respect your journalism and I never have emailed any shows before..But I must say I completly disagree with you and your Dr. friend on the show. I belive there are some powerful people behind stopping this Dr. and alot of $$$ at stake...Just my thoughts

    January 6, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  6. Elaine Zapotoczny

    Dear Anderson,

    Kudos for shedding light on this very controversial topic. As a parent of a child with Autism it is hard to not know why this has happened to our child... and Dr. Gupta is 100% correct that until we have a reason about why Autism disorder exists, there will continue to be great debate. In fact, in my opinion, the debate about scentific validity is a non-productive debate.

    The focus must be on continued research, support, education and awareness for those directly impacted by this life-altering disorder. We must focus our energy on helping the individuals and families of those impacted by autism. And the media can play a critical role in bringing to light the gaps that exist around the deficiences in these areas... it is a monumental issue, growing with each passing day!

    January 6, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  7. Cheryl

    As an autism mom and regular viewer, I was appalled at the sheer rudeness and belligerence displayed by Mr. Cooper while interviewing Dr. Wakefield. Thousands of parents back up Dr. Wakefield. The debate over a study of 12 kids is a non-issue for us.

    January 6, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  8. Katie Wright, NY, NY

    Anderson please have a parent of one of Wakefield's patients on your show.

    Let these families speak for themselves!!!

    January 6, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  9. Beti Argun

    Dear Mr Cooper, please note that the vaccine-autism debate is falsely framed as MMR-autism debate, thereby distracting everyone from the real problem: mercury! Seven out of 11 of Kanner's initial cases had serious parental connections to mercury. Latest U of Pittsburgh study clearly shows the link between mercury and autism-like symptoms. As an honest journalist, please check the validity of these assertions yourself.
    1) Because the first of the three Hep B boosters (which contained thimerosal back in the 1990s) was administered hours after birth, the hypothesis that children were born with autism, rather than having developed it later, is essentially untestable for those born during those years.
    2) Autism rates are going up, yes, even after thimerosal has been removed from childhood vaccines. Why? Could it be that flu shots currently recommended to pregnant women, administered to newborns and infants still contain the preservative? Or, perhaps we should look at other environmental sources of mercury, which is indisputably toxic to primate and human brains.

    Dr Gupta is absolutely right that this debate is not going away anytime soon. The only way to put the vaccine-autism debate more or less to rest is to conduct a serious study, using un-vaccinated children as the control group. Until that happens, everything else will just sound like well-funded political mumbo jumbo to those families, who suspect a link based on their empirical (not just theoretical) knowledge of the situation.

    While you're at it, please check the methodological flaws and conflicts of interests in the existing and largely epidemiological studies negating a link.
    Please do not dismiss prominent folks like Dr Bernadette Healy, Robert Kennedy Jr. and David Kirby (author of Evidence of Harm) and Dan Olmsted (author of The Age of Autism), who argue that science has not yet been exhausted in this debate. There's some serious counterarguments here, which need to be taken seriously by serious people like yourself.
    Respectfully yours.

    January 6, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  10. Tim

    I'm no doctor by any means. I'm not even saying I believe Andy Wakefield, but I do believe is that our society in large has become incedibly naive to think our governments have the peoples intrest at heart!!Greed and big bussiness are what drive polititians! That is fact! Why is it so hard to believe that the medical community and pharmaceutical companies conspired against him is what I want to know? If doctors really want to save lives why dont they support universal health care. To much of a pay cut. Maybe? Why are insurance companies regulating who gets treatment and alowwed to charge higher premiums to people that are more high risk than others? Why do banks and investment firms get to manipulate the money markets and when it blows up in there face get to run to the Federal Government for a bail out from the taxpayers. Despite the majority of the people being opposed! IT'S DISGUSTING

    January 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm |