Monday’s medical myth: the MMR vaccine causes autism

Case closed: the MMR vaccine has no relationship with autism.

Few medical myths have spread as feverishly and contributed to so much preventable illness than the theory that the triple measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine might be linked to autism.

The tale was first suggested by Andrew Wakefield at a 1998 press conference following the publication of his now discredited (and retracted) Lancet paper.

The paper itself didn’t address such a connection but Wakefield raised concerns with journalists and called for a boycott of the MMR vaccine.

“I can’t support the continued use of these three vaccines, given in combination,” he said, “until this issue has been resolved.”

Wakefield said the vaccine should instead be broken into single components and given at yearly intervals.

We now know Wakefield had good reason to discredit the MMR: he had a patent for a single measles vaccine and he was being paid by lawyers who were assembling a case against MMR manufacturers.

None of these conflicts of interest were revealed when The Lancet paper was submitted for publication – if they were, it would never have been published. As the editor of the Lancet noted, Wakefield’s paper was “fatally flawed.”

Further investigation published this year in the British Medical Journal revealed what Wakefield did wasn’t just bad science, but deliberate fraud.

Andrew Wakefield’s actions were “callous, unethical and dishonest”. AAP