Twelve years after publishing a study that linked the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism and bowel disease, a renowned British medical journal Tuesday retracted it.
British physician Andrew Wakefield reported an investigation in a February 1998 edition of The Lancet claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and the two medical conditions. And while never stating a cause and effect, Wakefield called on doctors to suspend vaccinating children with the three-dose vaccine.
Lancet editors later learned Wakefield was being paid by parents involved in a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. Ten of his 12 co-authors have since renounced the research.
Publicity surrounding the study led many parents in the United Kingdom and the United States to refuse to vaccinate their children. In Europe, widespread abandonment of MMR resulted in waves of mumps and measles outbreaks in countries that once had stellar vaccination records.
A recent case of measles on Long Island was contracted in Ireland; a major mumps outbreak under way in Rockland County has roots in England, authorities say.
Scientists have since disproved any link between autism and the MMR vaccine. But the monstrous debate that ensued more broadly pitted parents of children with autism against vaccines in a war of words with the scientific community that has yet to die.
"The retraction is unlikely to alter the polarized debate," Dr. Brad Peterson, chief of pediatric and adolescent psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, said Tuesday.
And leading proponents who argue vaccines cause autism are unswayed by the retraction. "It merely confirms the lengths to which the public health establishment will go to discredit someone who dares to challenge medical orthodoxy," said Robert Krakow of Garden City, the parent of a child with a neurodevelopmental condition and a lawyer who represented families in federal proceedings in Washington, D.C., two years ago.
In more than 4,000 cases, families - many from Long Island - insisted vaccines caused injuries. The court denied compensation to all plaintiffs last February.
The Lancet retraction came less than a week after a British medical disciplinary board accused Wakefield of "callous disregard for children."
Among the 12 children in his study were several healthy attendees at his son's birthday party, paid to give blood samples. The panel accused Wakefield of falsifying data. He faces loss of his British medical license.
Wakefield moved to Texas years ago and runs an institute called the Thoughtful House Center for Children. He did not return Newsday's repeated calls Tuesday to comment.