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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 March 2004, 09:55 GMT
MMR researchers issue retraction
Vaccination rates have dropped
Ten doctors who co-authored the study which sparked health fears over the MMR jab have said there was insufficient evidence to draw that conclusion.

The study, published in The Lancet in 1998, never proved a link between MMR and autism.

However, its findings triggered widespread public concern, and a drop in vaccination rates.

The doctors issued a public retraction on Wednesday. However, it was not signed by three of the co-authors.

'Insufficient evidence'

Dr Andrew Wakefield, the paper's lead author, is one of two doctors who did not sign the retraction. A third doctor could not be traced.

The main thrust of the paper was the discovery of unexpected intestinal problems in children who had autism.

They have retracted this interpretation given the revelations about conflicts of interests
Dr Richard Horton,
The Lancet
The doctors say that "much uncertainty" remains about the nature of these changes, and stress it is important that further research continues.

But they admit they had insufficient evidence to link the problems to the triple jab and had under-estimated the storm it would cause.

In a statement, to be published in The Lancet, the doctors say: "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.

"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."

Last month The Lancet admitted it would not have published the paper if it had known about what it called a "fatal conflict of interest."

It followed the discovery that Andrew Wakefield was carrying out a second study at the time.

Funding was provided to the hospital where his team worked for the study, which was investigatingif there was any evidence to support possible legal action by a group of parents who claimed their children were damaged by the vaccine.

Some children were involved in both studies.

'Unsafe interpretation'

Lancet editor Dr Richard Horton said the 10 authors acknowledged that their interpretation of the data was unsafe.

"Ten of the original 13 authors have retracted the key interpretation of their 1998 Lancet paper concerning a potential association between MMR vaccine and a new syndrome of autism and bowel disease.

"They have retracted this interpretation given the revelations about conflicts of interests that have emerged in the past two weeks. They believe that these revelations render that key part of the paper totally unsafe."

However, Paul Shattock of the Autism Research Unit at Sunderland University, questioned the validity of the retraction.

"How can you retract something you didn't say? In their paper, they went to great pains to say that we are not saying that MMR triggers autism.

"They said that in words of one syllable. So it seems very strange to me that they are retracting something that somebody else has said about it."

MMR uptake has fallen as low as 60% in some areas, is leaving British children vulnerable to disease.

Dr Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat member of the Commons Science Select Committee said, the retraction did not go far enough.

He said: "It is now clear that not only the interpretation of the MMR link, but the so-called finding that the parents of eight of the 12 children in the study associated the onset of symptoms with MMR, was deeply flawed.

"This is because some, if not all the cases were pre-selected on the basis of the parents suspecting a link with MMR.

"An independent judgement is needed into whether the sample was so biased as to be scientifically invalid."

The BBC's Tim Muffett
"They acknowledged the implications their study had"

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