LONDON -- A major British medical journal on Tuesday retracted a flawed study linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism and bowel disease.This does not come as a great shock to many in the medical field. Approximately 25 studies have been published disputing the link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
The retraction by The Lancet comes a day after a competing medical journal, BMJ, issued an embargoed commentary calling for The Lancet to formally retract the study. The commentary was to have been published on Wednesday.
The BMJ commentary said once the study by British surgeon and medical researcher Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues appeared in 1998 in The Lancet, "the arguments were considered by many to be proven and the ghastly social drama of the demon vaccine took on a life of its own."
Ten of Wakefield's 13 co-authors renounced the study's conclusions several years ago and The Lancet has previously said it should never have published the research.
"We fully retract this paper from the published record," Lancet editors said in a statement Tuesday.
Last week, Britain's General Medical Council ruled that Wakefield had shown a "callous disregard" for the children used in his study and acted unethically. Wakefield and the two colleagues who have not renounced the study face being stripped of their right to practice medicine in Britain.
Personally, I know several parents of young children who either refuse to give the MMR vaccine, or who want to give it later than the CDC recommends, i.e., first dose at 12-18 months, second dose at 4-6 years. However, this places additional risks on the child. Recently, 11 cases of measles were reported in Queens, and previously, 26 cases in New York City in 2008 were reported. Also, in October, a mumps outbreak was reported in both Brooklyn and Lakewood, NJ. If parents fail to vaccinate their children they risk exposing them to these serious diseases, as well as exposing children to young to receive the vaccine, something that has potential for deadly consequences.
UPDATE: From CNN
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention praised The Lancet's retraction, saying, "It builds on the overwhelming body of research by the world's leading scientists that concludes there is no link between MMR vaccine and autism. We want to remind parents that vaccines are very safe and effective and they save lives. Parents who have questions about the safety of vaccines should talk to their pediatrician or their child's health care provider."
Since its publication, Wakefield's study has attracted many critics who argued that the work had been so flawed it should not be regarded as scientific.
Wakefield theorized that the measles vaccine caused gastrointestinal problems and that those GI problems led to autism. In his view, the virus used in the vaccine grew in the intestinal tract, leading the bowel to become porous because of inflammation. Then material seeped from the bowel into the blood, Wakefield's theory said, affecting the nervous system and causing autism.
But subsequent research has been unable to duplicate Wakefield's findings.