Lancet formally retracts 1998 paper linking vaccine and autism

Medical journal The Lancet Tuesday withdrew a 1998 study linking autism with inoculation against three childhood illnesses, a paper that caused an uproar and an enduring backlash against vaccination.

The British journal said it was acting in the light of an ethics judgement last week by Britain's General Medical Council against Andrew Wakefield, the study's lead researcher.

"We fully retract this paper from the published record," The Lancet's editors said in a statement published online.

The 1998 paper suggested there might be a connection between and a triple for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

Other experts insisted the claim was spurious, but many parents in Britain were deeply alarmed and refused to have their children vaccinated.

The slump has yet to fully recover today and as a result there has been a rise in measles, placing unprotected young lives at risk, say doctors.

The scare over the vaccine also occurred in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In 2004, 10 of the paper's 13 authors distanced themselves from part of the study, publishing what they called a "retraction of an interpretation."

In last Thursday's ruling, the General Medical Council attacked Wakefield for "unethical" research methods and for showing a "callous disregard" for the youngsters as he carried out tests.

They included invasive procedures such as spinal taps and colonoscopies for which he had not gained ethics approval, and taking blood samples from children at his son's birthday party for five-pound (eight-dollar, six-euro) payments.

Wakefield was also accused of acting in a misleading, dishonest and irresponsible way in the manner in which he presented the research.

The two-and-a-half-year hearing was one of the longest in British medical history.

"Following the judgement of the UK General Medical Council's Fitness to Practise Panel on January 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 study by Wakefield et al are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation," The said.

The original study looked at 12 children aged between three and 10 who had been referred to the department of paediatric gastro-enterology at London's Royal Free Hospital.

After a trouble-free early life, they developed bowel disease and developmental regression, including loss of communication skills.

The study suggested there could be a "possible relation" to the MMR vaccine, which is administered at around 18 months and again at the age of four years, and said further work was needed to confirm this "syndrome."

Running in parallel to the medical implications of the scare has been a long-running debate whether one of the world's most prestigious medical journals should have published the paper, ring-fenced it with clearer warnings or retracted it sooner when the flaws first became known.

Despite the furore, Wakefield remains a hero to some parents of children with autism, who portray him as victim of a witch hunt.

Autism is the term for an array of conditions ranging from poor social interaction to repetitive behaviours and entrenched silence.

The condition is rare but seems to affect predominantly boys.

Its causes are fiercely debated.

Theories range from exposure in the womb to the male hormone testosterone, environmental factors after birth and genetic factors, including "sporadic," or accidental, mutations as opposed to inherited ones that are passed down through generations.

(c) 2010 AFP

Citation: Lancet formally retracts 1998 paper linking vaccine and autism (2010, February 2) retrieved 24 June 2019 from
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Feb 02, 2010
The combination of fraudlent science and hysterical media is poisonous. This story had flashing warning lights all over it, but it took 12 years to get the truth out. Let's hope the damage can be repaired. All we need is that the media turns on itself, and constantly reminds us what dupes they are. I suggest a daily column of the latest fraud, on page 1.

Feb 02, 2010
Maybe Jim Carey's wife can finally shut her trap. With this paper retracted, she has NOTHING to back up her incessant rambling about vaccination. By not vaccinating people are hurting their children, and the poor kids don't even know it.

Feb 02, 2010
Well at least they didn't force him to drink Poison Hemlock Tea.
Seriously though, why don't they just stop putting Mercury/Thimersol in the vaccines?

Feb 03, 2010
I wouldn't be praising the gods for good fortune. They used the same tactics to take the license of Dr. Lendon Smith.
Granted he never did spinal taps or anything but if I remember correctly a doctor is ABLE to MAKE a 'decision' what is in the best INTEREST of the patient. JUST because OTHERS disagree with what he is doing DOESN'T necessarily make him wrong.
You STILL have doctors considering bloodletting to be medieval and barbaric.
If Dr. Wakefield is ostracised for doing work he truly believed in then we are losing a Doctor with much better credentials than the ones I've seen over the years.
Crusty faced ..
Imho ..

Feb 03, 2010
Ironjustice, I have no problems with doctors pursuing areas and theories they have a personal belief in, but when they skew and fabricate results to suit their opinions that when this becomes BAD science.

Couple that with the extra care that should have been taken in the presentation of these results - they needed to be iron-clad before starting such a scare about perfectly acceptable vaccines. And they were NOT, and it's for this reason he should be struck off.

Feb 03, 2010
I would note that Dr Wakefield had a huge conflict of interest here, since at the time he was involved in creating an alternative to vaccination that would make him very, very rich if people became scared to vaccinate their kids.

Feb 03, 2010
Andrew Wakefield should be tried for the damages he has caused to humanity. From blossoms of new cases of mumps to new cases of polio, humanity has Andrew Wakefield to thank for starting the ignorant ball of anti-vax nonsense rolling.

As for the above question about thimerosal? They haven't included it in any of the early scheduled childhood vaccines for a long time now, but the cases of autism haven't declined. Please do your own research before saying something so ignorant of the science of vaccines.

Feb 03, 2010
I was wondering if the story should explicitly state....NO scientific link has been established between vaccines and autism. Just for those still in doubt.

Feb 05, 2010
When it comes to the scheduled childhood vaccines, there is no evidence for a link with autism or any other unknown side-effects. This Doctor's fabrication is tantamount to murder in my opinion.

I have a disagreement with non-scheduled or untested vaccines like those of the flu shot that are recreated yearly. I understand that the components are primarily the same, and that those components have been well tested, but unless the need is great, I prefer not personally receiving them. I also do not think they will cause autism as again there is no evidence to that effect.

As the above posters have written, there is no causal link between vaccination and autism, and until vaccination can be shown to cause 23rd chromosome trisonomy, there never will be.

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