Study linking vaccines to autism officially retracted

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Twelve years ago, the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet published a study indicating a link between the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine (MMR) and autism. The finding validated the fears of a growing subculture suspicious of vaccines, and played a role in the significant decrease in vaccination rates—in the U.K., for example, MMR vaccinations had reached 92% in 1995, only to drop to 81% by 2004, according to the New Scientist. Yet, in the wake of numerous studies and a U.S. federal court ruling refuting that link and a recent ruling by the U.K.’s General Medical Council (GMC) finding the study’s authors guilty of professional misconduct, yesterday The Lancet announced the official retraction (PDF) of the study.

The 1998 study included 12 children who had behavioral problems and an inflammatory bowel condition, all of whom were given the MMR vaccine. Of that group nine were diagnosed as autistic. Yet, the recent GMC ruling found Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the lead author on the original study, conducted the study unethically—collecting blood samples at a children’s birthday party, in exchange for payment of $8 (£5), for example.

In spite of the damning findings (and the fact that 10 co-authors on the paper had already disassociated themselves with the study), undermining the link between autism and MMR hasn’t yet proven enough to change the beliefs of adamant autism-vaccine theorists, and this latest development won’t likely change that, as Claudia Wallis reports for TIME. As Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious disease at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure, summed it up, “”It’s easy to scare people, but it’s extremely hard to un-scare them.”