Health Law

Lancet Retracts 12-Year-Old Paper Linking Vaccines to Autism

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A medical journal has retracted a controversial 1998 paper that found a link between autism and the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella.

The Lancet retracted the study after the author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was found to have acted unethically in conducting the research, CNN reports. His study had concluded the so-called MMR vaccines caused bowel problems and autism in children, according to a Fox Business story on Lancet’s decision.

Last week a fitness to practice panel in the United Kingdom found that Wakefield was misleading in the way that he described the study and had subjected some children to medical tests without ethical approval and against their clinical interests, the Telegraph and the Sunday Times report.

In the United States, more than 5,000 vaccine claims have been filed with the U.S. Court of Claims. Special masters ruled a year ago in three test cases that parents of the children had failed to prove that autism was caused by vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella that contained the preservative thimerosal. The rulings did not apply to cases claiming autism is caused by thimerosal vaccines alone, and by MMR vaccines without a thimerosal link.

The Telegraph article has more details of the fitness panel’s findings about Wakefield’s research. In one instance, Wakefield paid children at his son’s birthday party to take samples of their blood, the panel found. It also concluded that Wakefield subjected children to unnecessary medical tests, including colonoscopies and spinal taps.

The author of the Sunday Times story says the panel investigation followed his reports on Wakefield’s methods. “My first big story in The Sunday Times about his work was in February 2004,” says author Brian Deer. “I exposed his deal with a lawyer, Richard Barr, who was preparing a case against the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine and revealed that the parents of the [children studied] were mostly litigants, recruited through anti-vaccine campaign groups.” Deer had more details about the alleged arrangement in a December 2006 story in the Sunday Times.

Wakefield, who now works at an autism clinic in Austin, Texas, issued a statement disputing the findings. The statement, published in the Telegraph, reads: ”The allegations against me and against my colleagues are both unfounded and unjust—I repeat unfounded and unjust—and I invite anyone to examine the contents of these proceedings and come to their own conclusion.”

Past coverage: “Special Court Finds Vaccine-Preservative Combination Didn’t Cause Autism”

ABA Journal: “No Longer Immune”

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