What caused this all-to-confusing issue? One scientific paper. This paper, published in The Lancet in 1998 and then fully retracted in 2010, revealed results linking autism to vaccines in 12 children. This paper was riddled with undisclosed conflicts of interest, falsified data, and irreplicable results. In fact, the lead author of the paper lost his medical license following an in-depth investigation of this paper.
Since the release of this paper, countless studies have been conducted to explore the potential autism-vaccines link. No data has yet to support this link. In addition, the US has established a specific system, often called the Vaccine Court, to litigate claims related to vaccines and autism. 5,000 cases have been reviewed or are currently in process and, to date, only one has been shown to demonstrate a link between vaccines and a specific type of brain inflammation (which is not autism).
What’s the problem here? Of course, there is a problem with the scientist who fraudulently published the 1998 paper. But, there lies a potentially greater problem in listening to him. This controversy has led to dramatic decreases in the rates of parents vaccinating their kids. Accordingly, there have been increasing incidences of preventable diseases, like polio and whooping cough. What’s interesting is that there has also been an increase in the incidence of autism, with the latest US estimates at 1 in 88. Clearly, something else is causing this disorder.
What are the solutions? Ending this debate doesn’t fall solely into the laps of parents. Yes, children need to be vaccinated and parents should stop lobbying against vaccines. But, autism researchers need to better communicate the truth about vaccines and autism. They need explain more of their scientific findings to the general public. The vaccine vacillation is just one of many confusing chapters in the book of autism. Scientists need to start writing in this book with a lay-oriented hand, and the public needs to keep reading it.
[This post was originally published at my previous blog, Neurolore.]