BY BOB HOLT
A study which may have had more impact in New Jersey than most areas has been retracted by a British medical journal.
The report that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an "elaborate fraud" that has done long-lasting damage to public health, medical publication BMJ reported Wednesday.
A 2007 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked New Jersey No. 1 among 14 states it studied in the prevalence of autism and related disorders, according to the New York Times.
CNN reports an investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study's author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was "no doubt" Wakefield was responsible.
Wakefield said that his work has been "grossly distorted" and that he was the target of "a ruthless, pragmatic attempt to crush any attempt to investigate valid vaccine safety concerns."
The now-discredited paper panicked many parents and led to a sharp drop in the number of children getting the vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccination rates dropped sharply in Britain after its publication, falling as low as 80% by 2004. Measles cases have gone up sharply in the ensuing years.
In the United States, more cases of measles were reported in 2008 than in any other year since 1997, according to the CDC. More than 90% of those infected had not been vaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown, they reported.
According to an Associated Press report at NorthJersey.com, the conclusions of the 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues was renounced by 10 of its 13 authors and later retracted by the medical journal Lancet, where it was published.
Wakefield has been unable to reproduce his results, and other researchers have been unable to match them. Most of the co-authors withdrew their names from the study in 2004 after learning he had had been paid by a law firm that intended to sue vaccine manufacturers -- information he failed to disclose.
Fiona Godlee, BMJ's editor-in-chief, said the study shows that of the 12 cases Wakefield examined in his paper, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and three never had autism.
The study of school and medical records in communities in those 14 states found an average of 6.6 of every 1,000 8-year-olds in 2002 had autism or a related disorder like Asperger's syndrome. In New Jersey, the number was 10.6 in 1,000. Among boys in New Jersey, 16.8 of every 1,000 had one of the disorders; among girls, 4 in every 1,000 was diagnosed with autism or a related disorder.
But the ranking also points to some good things about New Jersey that might be instructive for other states ---- a higher level of awareness about autism, meticulous record-keeping and a wider availability of services in schools and communities.
The Courier Post reports British medical authorities last year also found Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct, stripping him of his ability to practice medicine in England.
Wakefield now lives in the U.S., where he enjoys a vocal following that includes celebrity supporters such as Jenny McCarthy.