Dr. Sanjay Gupta Confronts Autism Study Doctor

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, left, confronts Andrew Wakefield about Wakefield's discredited report that links autism and vaccines. From the CBS Evening News, Jan. 6, 2011.
CBS
In 1998 a study frightened parents all over the world when it linked autism to some childhood vaccines. An investigative report in the British Medical Journal calls that study an elaborate fraud.

The report finds five of the 12 children in the study had developmental problems before they were vaccinated and three children who were said to have autism didn't have it at all.

To this day, Andrew Wakefield's original study has made the fear of vaccines an issue for every family medical practice in this country.

"It's remarkable how much damage one man can do," says the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's vaccine expert Dr. Paul Offit.

CBS News contributor Dr. Sanjay Gupta confronted Wakefield with the charges.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: "These charges that are a big deal in the world of science, the most damning evidence of all, that perhaps these numbers, the dates, were all fabricated to sort of make a case. Did you have some sort of preconceived notion of a link between the vaccine MMR and autism before you conducted this study?"

Andrew Wakefield: "Absolutely not. Dr. Gupta, please, I urge you, go and read my book. You will understand it. Many people don't. The parents understand it. They get it because they have lived it, OK? And the claims to whether the vaccine caused their children harm or not came from the parents, not me. I didn't have a preconceived notion about this at all."

Not only did Wakefield's paper give birth to an anti-vaccine movement, it scared parents into skipping or delaying vaccines.

"Four children died from measles," says Offit. "Three died in Ireland, one died in England, died from a disease that was perfectly and safely prevented by a vaccine, died because of that paper. That paper killed four children."

Katie van Tornhout's one-month-old daughter, Callie, died of whooping cough last year. She was too young to be vaccinated herself but likely caught the disease from someone else who was not properly vaccinated.

"When you have a baby who didn't have a chance against these sicknesses and you hear these stories, 'Oh, it would have caused autism anyway,' it makes me mad and I just want to smack them and say but if they would have had these vaccines, they'd still be here," says Tornhout.

Although the CDC reports childhood vaccination rates are at record highs in this country, lack of vaccination has likely contributed to recent outbreaks of measles and other childhood diseases.

Gupta told CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric, "This is one of the most widely studied things in medicine. As much as they've searched, they haven't found a conclusive link by any means between vaccines and autism. That link has not been found."