Andrew Wakefield; image Steve Parsons in the Guardian
Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper in the peer-reviewed Lancet in 1998 linking a combination vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) with autism. It caused a stir on both sides of the Atlantic; Tens of thousands of parents stopped vaccinating their kids. Measles rates soared, but many parents were convinced and Andrew Wakefield became their hero.
Last week, the General Medical Council branded him as "a dishonest, irresponsible doctor," accused him of flouting the rules, taking money from ambulance-chaser lawyers, having a financial interest in an alternative vaccine, breaking ethical rules of invasive tests on children and basing his entire study on only 11 of them.
On Tuesday the Lancet retracted the paper from 1998. The editor told the Guardian: "It was utterly clear, without any ambiguity at all, that the statements in the paper were utterly false," he said. "I feel I was deceived."
On this side of the Atlantic, you can read Michael Specter in the New Yorker:
The damage Wakefield has done cannot be overstated, and vaccine denialism became a central issue in American public health as a result....If only it were possible to retract the fear and confusion the article caused. Unfortunately, that could take at least another decade.
Not everyone is convinced; readDavid Kirby in the Huffington Post:
I believe that the public lynching and shaming of Dr. Wakefield is unwarranted and overwrought, and that history will ultimately judge who was right and who was wrong about proposing a possible association between vaccination and regressive autistic spectrum disorder (ASD)....Nobody seriously thinks that the retraction of The Lancet article, and the international flogging of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, will do anything to make this debate go away. And they are right.
David Kirby and Michael Specter agree on one thing; this issue isn't going away.