Ten years ago the medical journal Lancet published a study (subsequently referred to as the “Wakefield article” after its principal author) reporting a link between MMR vaccines and autism, launching a controversy based on bad science that, in turn, continues to discourage fearful parents from having their children properly vaccinated and to contribute to a rise in cases of measles.

Lancet has published a new study seeking to replicate the original article’s findings. Result? No dice.

This study provides strong evidence against association of autism with persistent MV RNA in the GI tract or MMR exposure. Autism with GI disturbances is associated with elevated rates of regression in language or other skills and may represent an endophenotype distinct from other ASD.

I’m with the The NY Times editorial board on this one:

The new study adds weight to a growing body of epidemiological studies and reviews that have debunked the notion that childhood vaccines cause autism. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the C.D.C. and the World Health Organization have found no evidence of a causal link between vaccines and autism.

Meanwhile, the original paper’s publisher — The Lancet — complained in 2004 that the lead author had concealed a conflict of interest. Ten of his co-authors retracted the paper’s implication that the vaccine might be linked to autism. Three of the authors are now defending themselves before a fitness-to-practice panel in London on charges related to their autism research.

Sadly, even after all of this, many parents of autistic children still blame the vaccine. The big losers in this debate are the children who are not being vaccinated because of parental fears and are at risk of contracting serious — sometimes fatal — diseases.

Parents of autistic children have reason to begrudge Lancet for publishing the originally misleading study. But that should not absolve us from resisting the paranoia it contributed to, especially now that the original findings have been refuted.

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