New evidence that the first study connecting vaccinations to autism was fraudulent may not persuade more Boulder residents to get their children immunized.
The original 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues -- which claimed that the MMR shot was connected to autism -- was already widely discredited. The study was retracted by the journal that published it in February 2010, and 10 of the study's 13 authors renounced the work.
The new examination by British journalist Brian Deer compared the reported diagnoses in Wakefield's paper to hospital records and found that Wakefield altered facts about patients in his research. Deer's study found that despite the claim in Wakefield's paper that the 12 children studied were normal until they had the MMR shot, five had previously documented developmental problems.
Fear of autism may be one of the reasons why Boulder has one of the lowest child vaccination rates in the state, with only 60 percent of children 19 months to 35 months of age immunized, according to a 2007 study.
Dr. Francesco Beuf, of Boulder's Pediatric Center, said that while he welcomes more evidence that Wakefield's study is illegitimate, he worries it won't make a difference in convincing parents in Boulder to get their children vaccinated.
"It's a little bit like discussing religion or politics," Beuf said. "You can talk logic, but you might as well forget it. It's a belief that's been planted in a great many people. I know people who are professors at (the University of Colorado) and owners of big businesses who just refuse to vaccinate. ... It's rather frustrating trying to convince them."
Sophia Yager, immunization coordinator for Boulder County Public Health, said she's also not sure that the latest discrediting of Wakefield's work will cause an increase in Boulder's vaccination rate -- but she's hopeful.
In particular, Yager said it might make a difference that the latest examination doesn't just cast aspersions on the scientific process Wakefield used, but it actually uncovers evidence of intentional deception.
"The fact that they said it's fraudulent and that they have documentation that the data was altered -- I'm hopeful that this puts it in perspective for people," Yager said.
Yager said that increasing Boulder's vaccination rate is important because a 60 percent immunization rate makes the community vulnerable to outbreaks of disease that people may think of as eradicated -- such as polio, which has recently reappeared in countries that now have low vaccination rates.
"Our community is at risk for diseases," she said. "It's a very real threat."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.