Lancet retracts controversial MMR research

An eminent journal which published a controversial research paper sparking concerns over a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism retracted it from the public record today.

The Lancet said following the judgment of the General Medical Council (GMC) fitness to practise panel last Thursday it had become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Dr Andrew Wakefield and others were incorrect.

The panel made a number of criticisms of Dr Wakefield, including that he was misleading and irresponsible in the way he described the study.

The research sparked a massive drop in the number of children given the triple jab for measles, mumps and rubella.

The editors of the Lancet said it had become clear that several elements of the paper were incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation.

A statement from the publication said: “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 fitness to practise panel ruled last week that Dr Wakefield “showed a callous disregard” for the suffering of children and subjected some youngsters to unnecessary tests.

Dr Wakefield “abused his position of trust” as he researched the possible link, it said.

He also brought the medical profession “into disrepute” after he took blood samples from children at his son’s birthday party in return for £5 payments.

He and two colleagues involved in the research, Professors John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch, face being struck off if they are eventually found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

Professor Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at University of Bristol Medical School, said today: “This is not before time. Let’s hope this will do something to re-establish the good reputation of this excellent vaccine.

“And I hope the country can now draw a line under this particular health scare and move on to new opportunities for vaccination.”

Dr David Elliman, consultant in community child health, Great Ormond Street Hospital For Children, said: “I feel this is a very reasonable decision. To be fair to The Lancet, they did publish a commentary at the time urging caution that wasn’t picked up.

“I think the reality of the world today is that academic papers on major public health issues do not remain the property of academia.

“Therefore it is incumbent on us all in science, in journals and in the media to be very certain of the strength of a study before rushing to publish, and to be aware of the potential effects.”

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