On February 26, 1998, the Royal Free Hospital in London made a press release based on the hypothesis of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, which insinuated that a causal link existed between the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and autism in children. Two days later, his research article was printed in the Lancet Journal in which he detailed the link he believed existed between the MMR vaccine, gastrointestinal disease and the development of autism. This simple inference made by Dr. Wakefield would create a widespread debate that still exist to this day despite numerous studies having been unable to replicate his findings. Since his original press release and publication, he has since been shown to be a fraud and been barred from practicing medicine.
The media circus began after the initial press release with several news sites posting articles on their website regarding the allegations. One such website for the BBC News briefly noted the link suggested by Wakefield during the press release. The article also notes that the other scientist associated with the research were more reserved in their beliefs. The other scientist stated that they believed more testing was necessary before any link could be determined. This was reported one day after the Royal Free Hospital press release, before the article in the Lancet had even been published.
One week later a U.K. newspaper, The Independent, reports a scarcity of the individualized measles, mumps, and rubella vaccinations due to increased demand by concerned parents. This high demand had been caused by the earlier reports of a possible connection between the combined vaccine and autism. A spokesperson for the manufacturer of the vaccines was quoted as saying, “If there was a problem with the MMR I think we would be aware of it by now” (Laurance, 1998). The spokesperson also cites their 26-year, 250 million-dose record of accomplishment as evidence of the safety of the vaccine.
In the weeks following the press release from the hospital and the publication of Wakefield’s article, Pulse Magazine prints an article reiterating the hypothesis that the vaccines be administered separately instead of in the combined form until more research has been done on the subject. In this article, another researcher from the original Lancet article is quoted suggesting that the combination of the three vaccines into one shot is the link between the vaccine and autism. This further fuels parents concern about vaccinating their children.
In June of 1999, an editorial article printed in the Lancet Journal, the very same journal that first published Wakefield’s article, denies any link between autism and the MMR vaccine. The authors warn in this article that, “Possible adverse reactions to vaccines have a particular attraction to various pressure groups and to the media, with important, and possibly catastrophic effects on the public confidence in immunizations and on vaccine uptake” (Taylor, 1999). This is understated, as the media circus and confusion surrounding vaccines and autism is still prevalent today.
In 2000, a textbook discussing immunization addresses concerns regarding the suspected link between the combined MMR vaccine and autism again. As they explain in their book: “To date, there is no convincing evidence that any vaccine can cause autism or any kind of behavioral disorder. A suspected link between MMR vaccine and autism has been suggested by some parents of children with autism. Typically, symptoms of autism are first noted by parents as their child begins to have difficulty with delays in speaking after age one. MMR vaccine is first given to children at 12 to 15 months of age. Therefore autism cases with an apparent onset within a few weeks after MMR vaccine my simply be an expected but unrelated chance occurrence.” This statement represents the scientific communities growing disbelief of Wakefield’s hypothesis as it...