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Medical journal retracts study linking autism, vaccines

From the archive: This story is more than 10 years old.


Medical journal retracts study linking autism, vaccines

Doctor in study falsified information, U.K panel finds

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The British medical journal The Lancet has formally retracted a controversial paper published 12 years ago that purported the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine causes autism.

"The action came less than a week after the U.K. General Medical Council's Fitness to Practice Panel concluded that Wakefield had provided false information in the report and acted with 'callous disregard' for the children in the study," The Los Angeles Times reports. "The council is now considering whether Wakefield is guilty of serious professional misconduct. A positive finding could cause him to lose his medical practice. Wakefield's study, conducted on only 12 children, concluded that the MMR vaccine is a primary cause of autism," and he said that he could not recommend parents vaccinate their children. 

"His words and actions led to a sharp drop in vaccination rates in both Britain and the United States and a resurgence in measles. Despite multiple subsequent studies that have refuted the link, vaccination rates have remained lower than they were before his report, and many parents remain concerned about the potential effects of the lifesaving vaccines" (Maugh III, 2/2). 

The Guardian: "The medical journal's editor, Richard Horton, told the Guardian today that he realised as soon as he read the GMC findings that the paper, published in February 1998, had to be retracted. 'It was utterly clear, without any ambiguity at all, that the statements in the paper were utterly false,' he said. 'I feel I was deceived'" (Boseley, 2/2).  

Associated Press/Fox News: "The retraction by The Lancet comes a day after a competing medical journal, BMJ, issued an embargoed commentary calling for The Lancet to formally retract the study. The commentary was to have been published on Wednesday. …Ten of Wakefield's 13 co-authors renounced the study's conclusions several years ago and The Lancet has previously said it should never have published the research" (2/2). 

The Times of London: Wakefield was "found to have brought the medical profession into disrepute after taking blood samples from youngsters at his son's birthday party in return for payments of £5 and failing to disclose vital conflicts of interest. He received £50,000 to carry out the research on behalf of solicitors acting for parents who believed that their children had been harmed by MMR, but could not account for how at least half this money had been spent" (Rose, 1/29).

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent news service. It is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-care-policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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The Lancet: Retraction

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