Vaccine-Autism debate reaches La Crosse

LA CROSSE, Wis-- It was a report that struck fear into parents all over the world.

The research suggesting a link between the Measles Mumps and Rubella vaccine and autism may be been discredited eight years ago, but there are still families out there, even in the La Crosse area who believe it to be true. They say they'll stick by that research no matter what the majority says.

When 14-year-old Tristan Davidson was just a baby, his parents, Meadow and Joshua Davidson of Sparta, say he was very sick for a long time, and doctors couldn't help them.

"Doctors really didn't know what it was," said Joshua Davidson. "So they just started giving him lots of things."

The Davidsons now say the doctor's treatment with vaccines and medications was what led to their son developing autism, and they're not alone.

On Thursday, at least 50 people showed up in support of researcher Andrew Wakefield at Myric Park in La Crosse.


"The parents' story is the most valuable starting point, and if the parents say, ‘This is what happened to my child, they were normal, they had a vaccine, now they're not normal,' and this happens not once, but thousands of times around the world, then we have to take that very seriously," said Wakefield.

Wakefield, a former doctor from England, who championed a research study in the late 90s looking at the health of a dozen families.

The study suggested there may have been a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

"Here we have, for the first time, something in autism, which is directly treatable and where we can make the lives of these children so much better, and what a tragedy not to capitalize on that," said Wakefield.

But years later, Wakefield's research was discredited by Sunday Times of London reporter Brian Deer.

"It was like peeling an onion," said Deer.

In his three weeks of investigative research, Deer found many flaws in Wakefield's work.

One of them, he said, was in the families Wakefield studied.

"At face value, you think well, that's really serious, but what we then discovered was that these 12 families were in it together," said Deer. "They were a group put together by anti-vaccine campaign for the purpose of advancing a lawsuit."

Deer also said Wakefield's data was rigged, and he was being paid millions to report the information.

Since the publication of Deer's article, Wakefield's research has been retracted from a very well-respected medical journal and the United Kingdom stripped him of his medical license.

Today, he still holds firm to his beliefs, and so do the Davidsons.

"The evidence is there," said Joshua Davidson. "I can see it in my son."

Both Wakefield and Deer say if anything, they hope this has caused families to get involved and do research on the subject as well as to ask their local doctors.

Pediatrician Dr. Richard Strauss from Gundersen Lutheran was at Wakefield's event today.

"I acknowledge that there can be minor and moderate side effects and very rarely a major side effect, but on balance, it is nothing compared to deaths that have been prevented [and] the disabilities that have been prevented," said Strauss. "So I really don't think -- well for me, it's not a question."

Deer is speaking about his report at UW-L on his research on Thursday at 5:30 pm and Friday at 3:30 pm.

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