Lancet retracts paper linking vaccine to autism

By Kate Kelland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Lancet medical journal formally retracted a paper Tuesday that caused a 12-year international battle over links between autism and the childhood vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella.

The paper, written by British doctor Andrew Wakefield, suggests that the combined shot might be linked to autism and bowel disease.

His assertion, now widely discredited, caused one of the biggest medical rows in a generation and led to a steep drop in vaccinations in the United States, Britain and other parts of Europe, prompting a rise in measles cases.

"It has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield . . . are incorrect," the British journal said in a statement.

A disciplinary panel of Britain's General Medical Council, or GMC, ruled last week that Wakefield had presented his research in an "irresponsible and dishonest" way and shown a "callous disregard" for the suffering of the children he studied.

It also ruled that he had brought the medical profession "into disrepute."

Adam Finn, professor of pediatrics at Bristol University, welcomed the Lancet's move but said it had been too long coming.

"Let's hope this will do something to re-establish the good reputation of this excellent vaccine," he said in a statement to reporters.

A rise in the number of parents refusing to have their children vaccinated, because of fears of autism, has increased measles cases in the United States and parts of Europe in recent years.

Data released last February for England and Wales showed a 70 percent surge of measles cases from 2007 to 2008, mostly because of unvaccinated children.

Vaccination rates are recovering.

The Lancet said that after the GMC ruling, it was clear that parts of Wakefield's paper were wrong. It highlighted, for example, assertions that investigations of children for the study were "approved" by the local ethics committee.

"Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record," the journal said in a statement.

Wakefield, who now lives and works in the United States, has always defended his work and accused those who argued against it of making "unfounded and unjust" allegations.

The GMC is considering whether Wakefield is guilty of serious professional misconduct, which could strike him from Britain's medical register.

-- Reuters

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