By SHERRY JACOBSON / Staff Writer
Published 13 February 2011 10:57 PM
For more than a decade, researchers around the world have been trying to refute the idea that autism might be triggered by childhood immunizations.
Last year, a medical journal retracted the original study linking the two, and its primary researcher lost his license to practice medicine. The debate was rekindled last month when he also was accused of fraud.
Conversely, the same researcher, Andrew Wakefield, who has lived in Austin for the past seven years, has become something of a heroic figure to many parents of autistic children — even as his study was pilloried by other scientists.
“I don’t know what this witch hunt is about, but I credit Dr. Wakefield and his research for helping us a lot,” said Nagla Moussa, president of the National Autism Association of North Texas, which claims about 1,000 members.
As more and more children are diagnosed with the developmental disability, their parents have grown suspicious of any study that dismisses the purported connection between vaccines and autism.
Three years ago, as many as 1 out of 150 children in the U.S. had a form of autism. Today, that number has grown to 1 out of 110.
“Parents are digging deep and finding their own answers because they can’t get them from the medical community,” said Leigh Attaway Wilcox, a Frisco mother of an 8-year-old with autism.
“We’re smart consumers asking questions because we have sick children.”
Autism and childhood vaccinations were first linked in a 1998 study published in The Lancet, a well-regarded British medical journal. Wakefield, the lead researcher, reported that a dozen children got a measles-mumps-rubella shot and, subsequently, developed autistic symptoms, including bowel problems and behavior changes.
Today, Wakefield, who hopes to open an Austin residential facility for autistic adults, said he regrets having to spend so much time defending his 13-year-old study.
“The tragedy is that it’s taking attention away from the real issues of how to help these poor children,” the 54-year-old surgeon said in an interview Friday.
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