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UK medical journal retracts flawed vaccine study

February 2, 2010

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LONDON—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.