LOS ANGELES — Twelve years after Dr. Andrew Wakefield
published his research in the international medical journal the Lancet
purporting that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine causes autism, the
journal on Tuesday formally retracted the paper.
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 council is now
considering whether Wakefield is guilty of serious professional
misconduct. A positive finding could cause him to lose his medical
Wakefield's study, conducted on only 12 children,
concluded that the MMR vaccine is a primary cause of autism. He
subsequently said that he could not, in good conscience, recommend that
parents have their children vaccinated.
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.
"This will help to restore faith in this globally important vaccine and in the integrity of the scientific literature," Dr. Fiona Goodlee,
editor of the BMJ — formerly the British Medical Journal — said Tuesday
in a statement. On Monday, Goodlee had joined the chorus of scientists
urging Lancet to withdraw the paper.
The original report "was outrageous," said Dr. Jeffrey Boscamp of the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.
"Most of the authors asked for their names to be removed from the
study. It's unfortunate that it undermined confidence in vaccines when
in fact it wasn't true at all."
Wakefield, who now practices in Austin, Texas,
said the accusations against him were "unfounded" and "unjust." Other
researchers, however, are happy to put the episode behind them so they
can go on with the difficult task of finding the true causes of the
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