Once you open a can of worms, the only way to recan them is to use a larger can.”
Zymurgy’s law of evolving systems dynamics (?Anon.)
In 1998 a study published in The Lancet implied that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine might be a cause of autism. Suggestions were made that Thiomerosol, a mercury-containing preservative used in some vaccines and other products since the 1930’s was the culprit. Previously, no harmful effects had been reported from Thiomerosol at doses used in vaccines, except for minor local reactions, but because of widespread pressure, Federal Agencies, The American Academy of Pediatrics and manufacturers finally agreed to remove Thiomerosal from vaccines in 1999.
Today, none of the vaccines used in the U.S. to protect preschool children against 11 infectious diseases contain this compound.
The Lancet study ultimately prompted research involving huge numbers of children, including a study of over 500,000 Danish children published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine, which failed to confirm the original findings. Once the question was raised whether the MMR vaccine might trigger autism in some children, even mounting evidence to the contrary failed to allay public fears. The widespread media coverage stemming from the original British report continues to the present day. While the vaccination rate has dropped since the study, the incidence of autism continues to rise.
In February 2004, allegations of research misconduct were raised against the original paper, asserting that the dozen children selected in the study were not randomly chosen, but included children involved in a legal action claiming vaccine injury. This possible conflict of interest was not disclosed to the Editors of the Lancet.Ten of the 13 authors of the research paper issued a partial “retraction.”
In May, 2004 The National Academy of Sciences, Institute of medicine concluded that the available evidence did not support a causal link between between MMR vaccine and autism. Yet the autism MMR affair continues to be the subject of extensive media coverage, although a majority of independent research experts recently concluded there was no evidence of a causal link between vaccines and autism.
To this day, the lawsuits and class action suits against the Government continue, one such suit having been settled as recently as March, 2008. The New York Times reported this month (Sept., 2008) that new teams of researchers from Columbia University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the CDC have again failed to show any connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, even though the Thiomerasol debate is no longer invoked.
One of the unintended consequences of the autism-vaccine controversy has been a decline in rate of immunizations for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) in some regions. Thanks to the debate, measles, a potentially deadly disease is making a big time comeback in the U.S.