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1998 Study Linking Autism to MMR Vaccine Is Retracted

 The prestigious British medical journal The Lancet retracted a 1998 study linking childhood vaccines to autism today, after an independent investigation found that its lead author acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" in his research.

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

The move comes days after the U.K.'s General Medical Council, a government regulatory agency, ruled that Dr. Andrew Wakefield acted improperly during his research. Lancet Editor Richard Horton said he didn't have sufficient evidence to retract the study until the council's independent investigation was complete.

Wakefield, a gastroenterologist who now works in the U.S., is largely held responsible for the widespread panic over vaccinations that led to a surge in children not being immunized against measles, mumps and rubella, for fear that the injections could lead to illness. Following the publication of Wakefield's study, MMR vaccination rates in the U.K. dropped from 92 to 80 percent.

The Lancet, a leading British medical journal, retracted Tuesday a 1998 study that linked childhood vaccines to autism. After the now-debunked study's publication, vaccination rates for measles, mumps and rubella dropped from 92 to 80 percent in the U.K.

Wakefield, who could lose his U.K. medical license, hasn't backed down from his study's results, and today he described the council's decision as "unfounded and unjust." The doctor is still in the business of autism research: He's the executive director at Thoughtful House, a Texas autism center that's a favorite of anti-vaccination spokeswoman Jenny McCarthy.

Questions about the integrity of his research have been circulating for years. Several subsequent studies have largely discredited Wakefield's results, and 10 of the study's 13 authors have since rejected its results. Last year, reports surfaced that Wakefield "may have altered data" after being paid $1 million to examine autistic children whose parents blamed the MMR vaccine for the illness, according to

Despite the longtime dismissal of the 1998 study by medical professionals, and piles of new research, vaccination debates have continued to rage, with startling health implications for children. In England and Wales, measles rates soared by 80 percent from 2007 to 2008. Here in the U.S, the CDC reports that vaccinations are at an all-time high, but measles outbreaks are at unprecedented levels, largely due to parents who opt out of immunizations.

Thoughtful House didn't return calls for comment, but the CDC has issued a statement to CNN, praising the Lancet's decision:

"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."

The retraction also comes a day after the competing British Medical Journal called for the Lancet to take action. Of the study, commentary authors wrote that "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."  [Katie Drummond, 2Feb2010]

UK medical journal retracts flawed vaccine study
Lancet formally retracts 1998 paper linking vaccine and autism AFP/File – Disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield (right) and his wife Carmel are seen outside the General Medical Council …

A major British medical journal on Tuesday retracted a flawed study linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism and bowel disease.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."

Since the controversial paper was published, British parents abandoned the vaccine in droves, leading to a resurgence of measles. Subsequent studies have found no proof that the vaccine is connected to autism, though some parents are still wary of the shot.

In Britain, vaccination rates for measles have never recovered and there are outbreaks of the disease every year.

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.

For the study, Wakefield took blood samples from children at his son's birthday party, paying them 5 pounds each ($8) for their contributions and later joking about the incident.  [2 Feb 2010 AP, London;