In 1998, our boy with Asperger’s Syndrome was 11 years old. A report was published in a prestigious British medical journal called The Lancet, linking the triple MMR vaccine with a significant raised risk of developing autism. For those of you who do not know, Asperger’s Syndrome is a disorder within the autism spectrum.
As any parent of a child with autism will understand, before 1998 my wife and I were already walking around with a feeling of guilt. What did we do, was it my genes or hers, was there something during the pregnancy that increased his risk, was there some lifestyle factor we could have avoided to improve the quality of my sperm or her egg, did we bring him up wrong, perhaps we were giving him the wrong food? The list is long and the anxiety lingered for years.
I was a medical writer in 1998 and read the Lancet article about a study carried out by Dr. Wakefield in horror. I immediately recalled the exact dates our son had his shots (jabs) and racked my brain to try to remember whether any symptoms started appearing afterwards or before.
My wife and I talked incessantly about when the first signs and symptoms appeared and we both agreed that they started more or less when he was about 9 months old. “So, it could not have been the MMR jab…right? Surely, not. No, he already had it when he was born…”
It was not long, in fact just a few days, before another thought started niggling in the back of both our minds. “Well, perhaps he already had Asperger’s. But, wouldn’t that have made him more susceptible to the devastating effects of the jab. Maybe if we had refused the jab, his symptoms might have been much milder, and his quality of life today would be much better.”
I talked to doctors until I was blue in the face over the following years. I read every study there was on this subject. None of them could find a similar link.
The world is full of conspiracy theorists, whose accusations continued feeding the doubt in the back of my mind.
Eventually, several years later, The Lancet announced that the 1998 study it published was not scientifically sound and that it was distancing itself from it. My doubt grew smaller, but did not disappear altogether. I could not rid my mind of the possibility there might be a powerful group of people or companies that were still controlling what we read. The heightened guilt my wife and I felt continued for over a decade.
This year the BMJ (British Medical Journal) published a series of articles that followed an investigation by Brian Deer, a well respected investigative journalist. Dr. Wakefield’s studies were found to be fraudulent and probably motivated by money. The initial investigation had been incompetent – the journal wrote that the wolves were asked to check out the wolves.
Today, at last, I am sure it would not have made the slightest bit of difference if we had refused to vaccinate when our son was small. I am still a medical journalist and know that any conspiracy theories (I receive dozens of emails on this each day) are not based on any compelling data.
When scientists carry out a study, they need to be fully aware of the impact their findings may have on possibly millions of people around the world. Raising false hopes or unnecessary guilt and despair is irresponsible and incredibly cruel. As human beings, most of us struggle to do the best we can for our loved ones. Ignorant people forever make careless comments that the parents might not be strict enough, the child did not get enough attention, his diet is wrong, etc. However, ignorance simply means lack of knowledge. I can understand and forgive completely any hurtful comments that come from ignorance.
But for specialists, who supposedly know more about a particular subject than anyone else, to make claims that are later found to be false and based on vanity or personal gain is unforgivable – it is malicious and brutal.
I call on the millions of GPs (general practitioners, primary care physicians), pediatricians and psychologists/psychiatrists around the world, who are torn between their instinct to close ranks to protect those in their profession and help their patients, not to turn their backs on us, the patients and their loved ones. We need your feedback, information and comfort to be able to move on. Parents of children with autism really need to look forward – and more importantly, their children with autism need mentally healthy and positive parents.
The billions of dollars, Euros, Pounds and Yens that did not go into autism research between 1998 and today, because philanthropists, grant givers and government departments might have been distracted by these false findings, now need to go into autism research. We do not know whether a huge grant might have occurred during this period that would have achieved a massive breakthrough in this field if that study had not been published – if so, I name it a tragedy for babies with autism born yesterday, today and in the near future, and also for their parents, siblings and other close relatives.
Written by Christian Nordqvist
Editor in Chief
Medical News Today