Report calls paper that linked vaccines and autism a “hoax”

An extensive investigation in a British Medical Journal chronicles the alleged manipulations and conflicts of interest in the since discounted 1998 study by British scientist Andrew Wakefield that linked vaccine use to autism.

The study, printed in the British medical journal Lancet, linked a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism, which “triggered a decade long public health scare,” according to the first part of the three part series, released January 6. In the study, the patient’s medical histories were allegedly manipulated to support a predetermined attempt to find a new syndrome. It was based on a case study, which was supported by the Royal Free Hospital in London, of 12 children with developmental disabilities.

According to the second part of the series, released Jan. 11, Wakefield began receiving funds in 1995 from the attorney Richard Barr, who worked for the anti-vaccine group JABS, who was fishing for a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. He paid Wakefield $150 an hour, resulting in more than $453,000 for Wakefield overall. The money came from Britain’s Legal Aid Fund, which is meant to provide money for poor people for access to justice.

Wakefield then received funds from Carmel Healthcare Ltd., which hoped to profit off an alternative vaccine, which Wakefield tried to patent, along with diagnostic kits.

The paper’s findings were retracted by 10 of the study’s 13 authors in 2004. In February 2010, the study was retracted by Lancet, after the UK’s General Medical Coucil removed Wakefield’s license and found him guilty of 30 charges, includes four charges of being dishonest and 12 charges of causing children to be subjected to invasive procedures.

In a statement released Jan. 13, Wakefield defended his study.

“My research and the serious medical problems found in those children were not a hoax and there was no fraud whatsoever,” Wakefield said, according to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek. “Nor did I seek to profit from our findings.”

The report was written by British investigative journalist Brian Deer and funded by The Sunday Times of London and Channel 4 television network.