The study, published in 1998 in the British journal The Lancet, was one for the history books. As the first study to report a purported link between a vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella and the onset of autism, the Lancet study has formed the crux for the argument that MMR vaccines can cause autism, and many in the anti-vaccine movement used the paper as proof of their claims.
In his 1998 study, Dr. Andrew Wakefield of London's Royal Free Hospital and School of Medicine, said he and his colleagues investigated 12 children with chronic inflammation of the colon and small intestine and regressive developmental disorder, and found "in most cases, onset of symptoms was after measles, mumps, and rubella immunization."
Once published, this research (now discredited) had far-reaching public health consequences after parents questioned the safety of vaccines. Many parents stopped vaccinating completely, increasing the incidence of measles and mumps, a condition that had been on the decline. Other families who did choose to vaccinate suffered enormous anxiety over their decisions, particularly in cases of children who were later diagnosed with autism.
The study has already been discredited a number of times before this most recent retraction. Ten of the study's 13 authors renounced it in a statement to The Lancet. In addition, it was discovered that Wakefield received funds from lawyers hired by parents who believed their children were harmed by the MMR vaccine. But last month, the UK General Medical Council's Fitness to Practice Panel ruled Wakefield broke research rules and acted unethically. This latest infraction prompted The Lancet to officially withdraw the paper.
While the paper's withdrawal has been praised by the health care community, many say the retraction will likely do little to sway the opinion of parents who are convinced the MMR vaccine causes autism. I tend to agree. This paper instilled a fear of vaccines and a distrust for the scientific community that, however flawed, will not easily be washed away.
What do you think? Does the withdrawal of this study change your opinion on vaccination and its purported link to autism? Does it change your opinion on whether or not you should vaccinate your own children?