The study, led by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was published in The Lancet in 1998. It was based on just 12 children with supposedly autismlike disorders and purported to find a link between the vaccine, the gastrointestinal problems found in many autistic children, and autism.
While parents around the world were understandably alarmed, many scientists rejected the claims, including, eventually, 10 of Dr. Wakefield's co-authors. A high-level British medical group, after an exhaustive fitness-to-practice hearing, found Dr. Wakefield guilty of dishonesty and misconduct. The Lancet retracted the article in part, it said, because the authors had made false claims about how the study was conducted.
Now the British Medical Journal has taken the extraordinary step of publishing a lengthy report by Brian Deer, the British investigative journalist who first brought the paper's flaws to light — and has put its own reputation on the line by endorsing his findings.
After seven years of studying medical records and interviewing parents and doctors, Mr. Deer concluded that the medical histories of all 12 children had been misrepresented to make the vaccine look culpable. Time lines, for example, were fudged to make it seem as though autismlike symptoms developed shortly after vaccination, while in some cases problems developed before vaccination and in others months after vaccination.
Dr. Wakefield has accused Mr. Deer of being a hit man. But the medical journal compared the claims with evidence compiled in the voluminous transcript of official hearings and declared that flaws in the paper were not honest mistakes but rather an "elaborate fraud."
Some parents still consider Dr. Wakefield a hero, and others have moved on to other theories, equally unsupported by scientific evidence, as to how vaccines might cause autism.
They need to recognize that failure to vaccinate their children leaves them truly vulnerable to diseases that can cause enormous harm.