In recent decades there has been much trepidation and heated debate regarding the safety of vaccines and the possible link between vaccines and the development of autism in young children. It is a public health issue that has been taken very seriously amongst both the parenting and medical communities and the resulting research has shown, definitively, that there is no causal link between vaccines and consequential autism development.
The origins of the critical eyes being cast upon vaccines are found in a man named Andrew Wakefield. Formerly employed at the Royal Free Hospital in London, Wakefield revealed, in 1998, a study he had headed in which a direct link between the M.M.R. vaccine and autism was found. His study was published and garnered great attention.
It was then promptly discredited, eventually thoroughly, by multiple research teams and agencies. No one was able to replicate his findings, an essential part of the peer-review process needed to lend credibility to scientific claims. In fact, there are numerous studies who are actually peer-reviewed that state, in no uncertain terms, that the link between vaccines and autism simply doesn’t exist.
Many studies have fallen to the peer review process, however. What makes Wakefield’s situation unique is that his study has created widespread, long lasting fear that could have dire consequences to lots of young children and their families. Despite the lack of scientific support, Wakefield continues to try and spread his message as medically sound advice.
The peer review process is not the only problems that have been found with Wakefield’s study, either. Andrew Wakefield’s research methods were so flawed that they were found to violate multiple ethical codes. When conducting research on human beings, many things are expected. First, researchers should not gather funds from sources that are personally invested in the outcome of said study. Further, when using human participants in research, every possible precaution must be taken to spare those people from as much risk of harm as possible.
Wakefield was working with an especially vulnerable group of people as they were both children and developmentally disabled and he subjected them to medical procedures that were not needed and were excessively invasive, greatly increasing the risk for both physical and mental harm.
It was determined that his financial dealings regarding funding for his study were questionable and deceptive.
He was also found to have manipulated the data in order to produce the outcome he wanted. He was unable to reproduce his findings because the findings were fabricated in the first place.
Wakefield was subsequently stripped of his credentials and is no longer allowed to practice medicine. Yet, because of the fear of direct harm to their children, or the need for answers in those whose children have autism, parents continue to fear and scrutinize the use of vaccines. And Wakefield fans these flames by continuing to misinform the public as fast as he is capable.
The consequences of his actions are that parents, given only part of a seriously flawed story, shy away from vaccinating their children. Reports of increasing incidents of diseases have spread beyond the M.M.R. vaccine to include other dangerous illness such as whooping cough as parents’ semi-informed fears generalize past the initial claims of Wakefield’s tampered with and unethical research to encompass all vaccines indiscriminately.
Andrew Wakefield is a thoroughly discredited figure who opposes sound scientific evidence, presented by professionals whose credentials are still intact. Their results, not his, have been replicated; they agree with each other and that is no small feat for a group of scientists.
The actual causes of autism or not understood right now. Much more research will be needed to attempt to narrow down our understanding of the factors involved with the development of this spectrum of disorders. The strongest current evidence points to a link between genetic factors and brain development. What is known is that there is plenty of sound scientific evidence against the link between vaccines, their administration and autism. Research really needs to be allowed to move forward, beyond this non-issue, so that real answers about autism can hopefully be found.
By Vanessa Blanchard