Few medical myths have been debunked as thoroughly as this one.
More than 20 scientific studies have failed to find a link between autism and vaccines, says Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The myth was fueled by a small, flawed study in The Lancet in 1998, which was later retracted. British medical authorities in 2010 found the author guilty of serious misconduct related to the study — including accepting more than $675,000 from a lawyer hoping to sue vaccine makers — and banned him from practicing medicine in England.
Editors of BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal, called the study “an elaborate fraud,” accusing author Andrew Wakefield of deliberately falsifying medical data.
In 2011, a U.S. “vaccine court” handling the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, in which judges considered lawsuits from roughly 5,000 families, ruling against parents who claimed that shots caused their children’s autism.
But myths, once unleashed, can be hard to rein in, says Seth Mnookin, the director of the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing. He wrote the book The Panic Virus: The True Story of the Vaccine-Autism Controversy.
“This idea has been set in people’s minds, and it’s going to take a while to overcome it,” Mnookin says. “I talk to people who look at the research and say, ‘I just don’t trust it.’ But for this to be a conspiracy, it would have to be virtually every government in the world