Patient Resources

Where did fear of vaccines come from?

We understand and appreciate the anxiety that many parents feel about vaccines. We are parents too and we also stress about making sure we are doing the best thing for our children. Regarding the fear of vaccines, scientific study has overwhelmingly shown that vaccines are effective, safe, and not related in any way to autism or other developmental disorders. The concern about vaccines and the possible relationship to autism began in 1998 when a British physician named Andrew Wakefield published a paper in the journal, Lancet; in which he hypothesized that the Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine was the cause of autism in 12 patients he studied. As with all things in science and medicine, one study or paper does not confirm a theory so Wakefield’s hypothesis was tested and scrutinized by other scientists.

The idea that the MMR vaccine is associated with autism has proved false.

All subsequent study and research into the idea that the MMR vaccine is linked or associated with autism has proved his hypothesis false. In fact, the Lancet retracted his paper in 2010 due to the overwhelming evidence disproving his theory and the discovery that he had been paid by a law firm that intended to sue vaccine manufacturers – a conflict of interest he failed to disclose. Further research into his paper and methodology revealed that his “evidence” linking the MMR vaccine to autism was not just bad science, but outright fraud.

An investigation concluded that Wakefield altered the medical histories.

An investigation published by the British Journal of Medicine (BMJ) in 2011 concluded that Wakefield altered or misrepresented the medical histories of all 12 patients whose cases were the foundation of his claim that the MMR vaccine caused autism. In their publication, the BJM wrote, “Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No. A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross.”

Fraud was discovered, but the damage was done.

Andrew Wakefield’s medical license was revoked once his fraud was discovered, but the damage from his papers and crusade against vaccines was already done. Despite mountains of scientific evidence, concern and fear about vaccines still persist.

Measles virus was officially eradicated in the United States in 2000, but due to pockets of unvaccinated persons, outbreaks continue to happen.

In 2014, 667 people contracted Measles in the United States, the greatest number of cases since the disease was eliminated in 2000. The good news is that the majority of people in the US do vaccinate, and as a result we often measure outbreaks in the hundreds and not in the thousands (whooping cough being an exception with more than 48,000 cases reported in 2012) so we rarely hear of or encounter the deadly diseases vaccines protect us against. Hopefully with increasing education about the safety of vaccines we will see vaccine rates rise and the number of outbreaks fall.

Read more about the science disproving Andrew Wakefield’s claims.

Read more about vaccine safety.

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