By Chris Adams

In the late 1990s, an obscure British researcher named Andrew Wakefield published a study in a respected medical journal, The Lancet, claiming a link between autism and the vaccinations nearly every child receives.

The study was eventually retracted, and British medical officials found Wakefield guilty of misconduct.

Yet 20 years later, the claims that he made endure, leading to skepticism among some parents about the shots their children are expected to receive. Concern over the safety of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine has caused vaccination rates to drop and disease rates to increase. Health news site Stat called Wakefield “one of the most scorned men in the medical world.”

John Auerbach, president and CEO of the advocacy organization Trust for America’s Health, detailed how Wakefield’s discredited claim was able to gain traction among parents worldwide, and how he continues to get support – financial and otherwise – from vaccination critics.

Auerbach said some of the anti-vaccination movement is propelled by general opposition to government mandates. “If you believe in small government, you don’t like rules that the government sets – and that is becoming a more visible segment,” he said.

It’s also spurred by general distrust of government and of science – and by the fact that it’s been decades since people routinely died from diseases that are now preventable.

As for the increase in autism cases nationwide, Auerbach said much about it is unknown. “People ask, ‘If science is so good, why can’t you tell me why this is happening,’” he said. “Science doesn’t have all the answers.”

Politicians in Washington are addressing the issue. There are measures in Congress to research and address “vaccine hesitancy,” as well as money in the Affordable Care Act that covers immunizations.