Science Scandals: Anti-Vaccination

The science community, just like any other community, has had its fair share of scandals over the years with one of the most well known being the ‘Anti-Vaccination’ movement.

Vaccinations are used by medical professionals to protect or immunise patients from diseases. They use weaker versions of a disease, or group of diseases, that are injected into the body. Our body’s immune system of white blood cells are activated and easy destroy these weak strains of diseases. One member of the immune system, B-Cells, remembers the disease so that if it comes into contact with it again, the disease can be easily and quickly destroyed.

Those in the movement have been found to be against vaccinations for a number of reasons, ranging from religious reasons to fears about safety. Many believe that the vaccination procedure causes more harm than good, with a specific belief that vaccinations cause Autism. This began when a paper published by Dr Andrew Wakefield in 1998 claimed that children who had the MMR vaccination (that uses the virus for Measles, Mumps and Rubella) had an increased chance of developing autism. The paper was published in The Lancet, a very well regarded academic medical journal, and was quickly grasped by the media posting headlines such as ‘MMR Killed My Daughter’ and ‘New evidence shows MMR link to autism’ over the years. The study’s affects has been one of the major factors in a decrease of children receiving the MMR vaccine as well as outbreaks of measles in recent years.

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An image of the Rubella virus under a microscope. Image taken from The Telegraph. Photo credit: The Science Picture Company

The original paper looked at 12 children who were brought to Dr Wakefield and his colleagues with gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhoea and abdominal pains (stomach cramps). These children had also recently started developing behavioural disorders, most commonly being autism which was noted to be after the MMR vaccine. However, his study was retracted in 2010 for accusations of ethical and scientific misconduct. Specifically, Dr Wakefield had not disclosed that he was partially funded by families suing the vaccine companies, had not received permission for invasive procedures on children and accusations of fraud, i.e. making up or selectively ignoring data.All these accusations led to an enquiry by the General Medical Council who stripped Dr Wakefield of his licence.

Numerous studies have now been conducted over the last decade into the link between MMR and Autism and these have collectively found that there is no link between the MMR Vaccine and development of Autism, however this confirmation of the vaccine’s safety cannot reverse the damage caused by this MMR-Autism scare.

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