The damage done by the discredited claim of a link between childhood vaccinations and autism is only now being slowly rolled back.
The controversy dates back to the 1998 publication of a research paper in the respected British medical journal Lancet that various maladies, including autism in young children, could be caused by the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Let us be clear: The scientific consensus is that there is no evidence linking the MMR vaccine to autism.
In fact, the study published in the Lancet was subsequently retracted due to the improper research practices and conflicts of interest of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the study’s principal author.
But the harm, and it was deep harm to the health of children worldwide, had already been done by research that was later described in another medical journal in 2011 as “the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years.”
Sadly, the conspiracy theories preyed upon parents desperately seeking some reason, some cause, for their child’s autistic behavior.
And those fears spread fast and far.
As Dr. John Fernald of Beckley Pediatric Associates told The Register-Herald in a story about vaccines, “Once it’s on the Internet, you can’t take it down.”
Wakefield was eventually discredited when it turned out he had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from trial lawyers seeking to sue vaccine makers. Some of their clients turned out to be parents whose children were part of the study.
These conflicts of interest were kept secret by Wakefield, who continues to push his discredited autism-vaccine connection. And, sad to say, he still has support among some in the autism community.
But the true legacy of his research is seen in reports of more and more cases of measles and whooping cough, which under certain circumstances, can be fatal.
Those of you under 60 may not remember the fear and anguish in our communities caused by the scourge of polio.
It was not uncommon to see children and young adults with withered limbs, and parents rightly feared their child could be next.
But the Salk polio vaccine ended that plague, when whole communities gathered to have children take a series of vaccines in sugar cubes.
Now, except for areas of war-ravaged Syria, polio has been almost eliminated worldwide.
In West Virginia, all children entering school must have immunizations against diphtheria, polio, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough, unless a doctor provides a medical exemption.
These vaccines are not linked to autism by any reputable scientific studies. But don’t get your children vaccinated because the law says to do it. Get them vaccinated because you love them.