British Researcher Wakefield Defends Link Between Vaccine and Autism

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McGrath said, "I felt sick to my stomach" when she heard that Wakefield's paper included skewed data. But she says she still believes the purported connection.

"Some of these kids [I saw] have been profoundly affected," she said. "He was presenting sick kids that were getting better. He was healing these kids and I don't understand why he was doing the wrong thing."

Wakefield Culprit Public Health Outbreaks, Many Experts Say

Although Wakefield's 1998 paper only suggested a connection between autism and the MMR vaccine, public suspicion spread to nearly all other routine vaccines.

"People are far more compelled by fear than reason," said Offit.

Over 90 percent of school-aged children are vaccinated against MMR in most schools nationwide, according to a 2010 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, mumps cases are the second highest reported disease among all of the vaccine preventable diseases, according to the CDC.

Experts said many parents more often question whether their children should receive other vaccines such as pertussis or whooping cough, or varicella, known as chicken pox.

"There is no doubt that the unsubstantiated concern regarding the MMR vaccine caused by Dr. Wakefield has resulted in many cases of vaccine preventable diseases," said Dr. Gary Freed, director of the division of pediatrics at the University of Michigan Health System.

No Definitive Cause of Autism Yet

After releasing his study, Wakefield warned parents against having their child receive the MMR vaccine. Wakefield now says he recommends that all parents talk to their pediatrician and read about vaccine safety before making a decision about vaccination.

"Do vaccines lead to autism, I don't know," said Wakefield. "I am for safety first. I am not for anti-vaccine. The vaccine strategy in this country is not safe."

The effects have gone beyond just skepticism, some claim.

"The damage that occurred over those years as a result of these concerns--outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases and in some cases, deaths-- cannot be reversed," said Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and author of the "Expecting 411" book series.

While many experts trace the steps of vaccine scare back to Wakefield's initial report, it is now time to let science move all further research, said Offit.

"He made an extraordinary claim with no extraordinary evidence," said Offit, adding that the belief is so ingrained among many, including Wakefield himself. "The only way for this issue to be put to rest is when we have a clear cause of autism," said Offit.

David Amaral, Beneto Foundation chair and research director of The M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California, Davis, agreed, adding that many in the scientific community have already let the paper go. The public should do the same, he said.

"What is most destructive in an episode such as this is the undermining of the public's confidence in the integrity of science," said Amaral. "Without replication, fraud and poorly conducted research will not stand the test of time."

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