Study Linking Autism to Vaccines Retracted

The Lancet, a major British medical journal, has retracted a study which it ran in 1998 linking autism and bowel disease to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

This retraction followed just one day after BMJ, a competing journal, called for The Lancet to do so in an embargoed piece of commentary. It comes a week after Britain's General Medical Counsel, which oversees all doctors, found lead author Dr. Andrew Wakefield's methods unethical.

Unfortunately, it comes over ten years after the beginning of the much publicized and highly controversial crusade against vaccines which this study inspired. Yes, this is the medical research which set off the anti-vaccine movement which has swept not only through the UK, but across the Atlantic to the US too, where the anti-vaccine crowd has received a voice in many high traffic media outlets - including being featured on Oprah in the form of former MTV personality and current activist, Jenny McCarthy.

According to BMJ's commentary, after The Lancet published Andrew Wakefield's study linking the common measles, mumps, rubella vaccine to autism, "the arguments were considered by many to be proven and the ghastly social drama of the demon vaccine took on a life of its own."

After this study was published, British vaccination rates fell sharply. In direct result of this, measles outbreaks - formerly rarely heard of - have made a resurgence among unvaccinated British children. Even as subsequent research has time and again failed to replicate the original paper's findings and more and members of the medical establishment have spoken out against it, measles vaccination among British children has not fully recovered.

This is not the first time that The Lancet has admitted that it should never have run the original paper. Over the years, ten of Wakefield's original twelve co-authors have reached similar conclusions, and in the face of that fact, the medical journal has attempted to respond accordingly.

"It has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al. are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were 'consecutively referred' and that investigations were 'approved' by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record," the Lancet's editors said in their statement.

Wakefield and his two co-authors who have stood by this study are being stripped of their privilege to practice medicine in Britain as a result of what General Medical Council ruled as "callous disregard" for the children involved in his study, and for patient selection which they found both biased and dishonest when they ruled his work unethical. They have called his conduct "dishonest and irresponsible."

Alison Singer, mother of an autistic child and president of the Autism Science Foundation, has said "That study did a lot of harm. People became afraid of vaccinations. This is the Wakefield legacy: this unscientifically grounded fear of vaccinations that result in children dying from vaccine-preventable diseases."