dr. andrew wakefield, mmr autism study, autism and vaccines
Press Association via AP Images
MMR research doctor Andrew Wakefield, center, arrives with wife Carmen Wakefield to make a
statement at the General Medical Council headquarters in London.

Medical Journal The Lancet Retracts MMR-Autism Study

February 02, 2010 05:00 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A controversial study linking autism to the popular MMR vaccine has been retracted by The Lancet, after the study's author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was discredited in an investigation by a British Fitness to Practice Panel.

Doctor May Be Guilty of Professional Misconduct

The Lancet medical journal has retracted its 1998 study suggesting a link between autism and the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. The retraction follows a Jan. 28 conclusion by the U.K. General Medical Council's Fitness to Practice Panel that Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the study's lead author, "provided false information in the report and acted with 'callous disregard' for the children in the study."

The study, which was based on 12 children, led many parents to forego vaccination in order to protect their children from autism. As a result, over the last decade, the prevalence of measles has risen worldwide. Many parents continue to avoid vaccinating their children, despite research that has proved Dr. Wakefield's conclusions to be false.

The Lancet announced the retraction with a comment from the editors saying, "[I]t has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. 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."

In a statement on Tuesday, Fiona Goodlee, editor of the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), said, "This will help to restore faith in this globally important vaccine and in the integrity of the scientific literature."

Allegations Against Dr. Wakefield

The Times of London first reported allegations that Wakefield submitted false information for his landmark 1998 study in February 2009.

The story published in the Times claimed, “In most of the 12 cases, the children’s ailments as described in The Lancet were different from their hospital and GP records.” The article also says several parents raised concerns about their children before getting the MMR vaccine.

Background: Vaccine fears; measles outbreaks

Measles cases are growing worldwide. In 2007 and 2008, more than 12,000 people in Europe contracted measles, Bloomberg reported in 2009.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that roughly half of the U.S. cases occurred because parents refused to vaccinate their children. Some parents believe the measles shot or a vaccine preservative that contains mercury causes autism, but officials say there is no good evidence to support that claim.

The vaccine issue is widely debated among doctors and parents. Some parents that choose not to vaccinate their children because they are worried about the autism link find their children are facing a new set of social problems: They are ostracized in schools and playgroups. Many parents that do vaccinate feel they have a right to protect their children by knowing who has been vaccinated; because vaccines are not 100 percent effective, an infected child can pose a risk, even to a vaccinated child.

But many parents that believe that there is a vaccine–autism link remain convinced and some medical cases make the issue more confusing. In March 2008, Hannah Poling’s parents sucessfully sued a federal vaccine oversight body, contending that a string of nine vaccinations administered to the girl as a toddler exacerbated an underlying condition that led to her developing encephalopathy. That encephalopathy contributed to developmental delays and had features similar to symptoms of autism.

After the verdict was announced, however, health officials were quick to reassure the public that vaccinations are safe.

The World Health Organization had hoped to completely eradicate measles from Europe by 2010, but to do that, vaccination rates have to be 95 percent in every country, Bloomberg reported in January 2009.

“If we don’t achieve 95 percent coverage, it seems like we will never achieve the goal,” Mark Muscat, an epidemiologist at Copenhagen’s Statens Serum Institut, told Bloomberg.

Countries with rates lower than 90 percent included the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and Romania, Bloomberg said. Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia have vaccination rates higher than 95 percent.

Reference: Autism

Autism is a disorder that impairs a person's social development and thought processes. Generally diagnosed before a child turns three years old, autism can limit individuals in varying degrees. FindingDulcinea's Autism Web Guide includes links to information on symptoms and support groups.

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