Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=155468
Story Retrieval Date: 5/23/2013 11:47:36 PM CST
The debate between parents of autistic children and medical professionals intensified Tuesday when a 12-year-old study linking the MMR vaccine to autism was retracted.
The United Kingdom’s General Medical Council announced that Dr. Andrew Wakefield, lead author of the 1998 article, had callous disregard for the children in the study and provided false information through his research.
The Illinois State Board of Education requires the MMR vaccine – which immunizes against measles, mumps and rubella – for children entering nursery school, preschool and kindergarten.
Wakefield’s study led to a drop in vaccine rates over the past decade, and parents fear the opt-out trend will expose their children to preventable diseases such as measles.
One Chicago mother is skeptical.
“For me, the benefits far outweigh the risks,” Isabelle Rohr said. “If this trend increases, then disease is going to start spreading faster.”
Rohr’s 19-month-old daughter Violetta – enrolled this year in a Chicago day care – is finishing up her first round of vaccines this week.
“It’s scary for me to imagine a kid spreading a disease through [Violetta’s] school,” Rohr said. “It would make me apprehensive and cautious about who my daughter is classmates with.”
But autism awareness groups, such as Generation Rescue, say that financially driven pharmaceutical companies are responsible for Wakefield’s defamation.
“This is a witch hunt and much ado about nothing,” said J.B. Handley, co-founder of the non-profit, which is based in California. “This is a well-orchestrated ploy by Big Pharma to confuse the public about a study that has been replicated numerous times.”
Handley said that the body of science explored since Wakefield’s publication has made the link between the vaccine and autism stronger. “This somehow means that MMR is safe,” Handley said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Sara DiFucci, the Chicago coordinator for Talk About Curing Autism, said that parents are indebted to Wakefield for his research.
“Mainstream medicine has done nothing to help my daughter,” DiFucci said. “We’re extremely grateful that Dr. Wakefield understands that our children are in pain and need help.”
DiFucci’s 11-year-old daughter, Amanda, is autistic. “Autism is a living hell day in and day out,” DiFucci said.
DiFucci and other parents of autistic children say that the retraction is disappointing and will likely prevent physicians from further pursuing the link between vaccines and autism. “I don’t want doctors to stop researching out of fear of retaliation,” DiFucci said.
Candice Burns, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the retraction significant.
“It builds on the overwhelming body of research by the world's leading scientists that concludes there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism,” Burns said in an email.