Researchers Reject Famous MMR-Autism Study
Experts Say Likely to Close the Door on MMR Vaccine Controversy
March 5, 2004 -- The researchers behind a controversial British
study that proposed a possible link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
vaccine and autism are now taking issue with their own study and rejecting the
The formal retraction comes after a newspaper investigation
revealed that the lead researcher in the study received funding from a legal
aid group that was seeking legal action on behalf of parents who believed the
MMR vaccine harmed their children, a conflict of interest not disclosed at the
time of publication.
The release of the study in 1998 triggered a collapse in the
U.K.'s child vaccination program and led to subsequent measles outbreaks after
concerned parents withheld the MMR vaccine from their children.
In the U.S., the study was frequently cited by a small but
vocal minority of parents opposed to the use of vaccines in children.
The retraction appears in the March 6 issue of The
Lancet, which is the journal that originally published the 1998 study. The
three-paragraph retraction was signed by 10 of the original 13 original
researchers of the report.
"We wish to make it clear that in this paper no causal link
was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were
insufficient," write the researchers.
"However, the possibility of such a link was raised and
consequent events have had major implications for public health. In view of
this, we consider now is the appropriate time that we should together formally
retract the interpretation placed upon these findings in the paper, according
Conflict of Interest Casts Doubt on Findings
The lead researcher of the 1998 study, Andrew Wakefield, MD,
did not sign the retraction and says he stands by the findings of the
In a statement published in The Lancet, Wakefield says
the investigation he was conducting on behalf of the legal aid group was
completely separate from the study that showed a link between MMR vaccination
and the development of an autism-like developmental disorder in 12 children
with an inflammatory bowel syndrome.
But the experts say the fact that Wakefield was conducting an
investigation on possible grounds for legal action on behalf of the parents of
some of the same children involved in the other study is a conflict of interest
that should have been disclosed prior to publication.
"We regret that aspects of funding for parallel and related
work and the existence of ongoing litigation that had been known during
clinical evaluation of the children reported in 1998 Lancet paper were not
disclosed to editors," writes Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet,
in an editorial that accompanies the retraction.
Horton says that if the editorial board and editors had known
then what they know now, it would have affected their decision to publish the