Local pediatricians agree the recent debunking of a study by British doctor Andrew Wakefield only corroborates what they've been telling parents for years: There is no proven link between vaccines and autism.
"I'm glad this is finally getting some recognition," said Dr. Owen Mathieu, a pediatrician who practices in Salem and is also contracted as Salem public schools' physician. "I think what (Wakefield) did was not only poor research, but was quite criminal. I'm glad it's coming to an end."
Wakefield, who wrote his 1998 paper with a number of colleagues, claimed 12 children in his study were diagnosed with autism after they were given the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. This month, the study was found not only to be wrong, but falsified.
After publication, the conclusions were renounced by 10 of the paper's 13 authors and later retracted by the medical journal Lancet, where it had been published. Still, the suggestion that the MMR shot was connected to autism spooked parents worldwide, and immunization rates have never fully recovered.
A new examination found, by comparing the reported diagnoses in the paper to hospital records, that Wakefield and colleagues altered facts about patients in their study.
"Most of the people in the pediatric community have been aware for years the original study was bogus," Mathieu said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and numerous other organizations have denounced the findings, as well, he said.
Dr. Shannon Dufresne of North Shore Pediatrics in Danvers said she answers questions about vaccines from concerned parents almost every day.
She is constantly having conversations about the merits and safety of vaccinating children.
"We (doctors) are constantly trying to prove, ourselves, that there is no link between the two (vaccines and autism)," Dufresne said. "Until we have a reason for autism, which I think we may not ever have, there's always going to be questions about its prevalence and why cases are increasing. More likely, it's something genetic that we just haven't figured out yet."
"In my viewpoint, I always chose to defer to the person with the medical degree in the room," said Hamilton mother Lyndsay Lund, who chooses to vaccinate her 21/2-year-old daughter, Charlotte.
Lund, who moved to Hamilton last year, said she had several friends in southern California who postponed or spaced out their children's vaccinations. Over the course of the move, Lund said she's had three or four pediatricians, all of whom recommended vaccinations.
Lund, a member of the Hamilton-Wenham Mothers' Club, is the granddaughter of a pediatrician.
"I don't blame people for choosing the other direction (not to vaccinate). Everybody's trying to make the best decision for their child," Lund said. "The influx of children not being vaccinated puts your own child at risk. ... We're pushed so much to socialize our children at young ages, they're exposed to more things than they were 50 years ago. Vaccinations are doubly important than they used to be."
Mathieu said about half of the parents of his patients ask questions about the safety of vaccines, which he said is partly caused by media coverage of the hot-button issue.
"That's understandable. I'd be worried about it, too, if I heard about it every time I turned on the radio or TV," Mathieu said.
Wakefield now lives in the United States where he enjoys a vocal following, including celebrity supporters like comic actress Jenny McCarthy.
Last May, he was stripped of his right to practice medicine in Britain.
Measles has surged since Wakefield's paper was published, and there are sporadic outbreaks in Europe and the U.S. In 2008, measles was deemed endemic in England and Wales.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.