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In The News: Vaccines & Autism

Lancet-Autism%202-02-04-10%29.JPGThe Lancet has retracted [free subscription required] the 12-year-old article connecting autism to MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccinations. The Lancet stated:

Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al1 are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore, we fully retract this paper from the published record.

Click here for the original article, “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and
pervasive developmental disorder in children
” (emblazoned with a bold, red typeface “RETRACTED”).
Here’s a summary of the posts on the internet and blogosphere:

  • Ron Miller, Accident and Injury Lawyer: “This is will do nothing to change the mind of people who believe there is a link between MMR vaccine and autism. The reality is there is no definitive study that proves either side’s contention.”
  • Drug & Device Law: “Among the grounds for the retraction: the lead author ‘was in the pay of solicitors who were acting for parents who believed their children had been harmed by MMR’ and that author ‘was ruled last week to have broken research rules.’”
  • BBC News: “Last week, the GMC [General Medical Counsel] ruled that Dr. Wakefield had shown a ‘callous disregard’ for children and acted ‘dishonestly’ while he carried out his research. It will decide later whether to strike him off the medical register. The regulator only looked at how he acted during the research, not whether the findings were right or wrong – although they have been widely discredited by medical experts across the world in the years since publication.”
  • Overlawyered: “No telling how many children died in the meantime, all so trial lawyers could line their pockets attacking vaccine manufacturers.” (there haven’t been many plaintiff’s victories in these cases – I bet most lawyers are in the hole on this litigation—JJC)
  • ShearlingsPlowed: “Merck Shares Rise Modestly—On News of Lancet’s Wakefield Study Retraction.”
  • Thoughtful House: This group, co-founded by Dr. Wakefield, stated “A careful examination of the full record of the Council’s inquiry will show that the charges made against Drs. Wakefield, Murch, and Walker-Smith are unfounded and unfair. We invite anyone to review the record, and to draw their own conclusions.”
  • CNN: “The panel [General Medical Council] found that Wakefield subjected some children in the study to various invasive medical procedures such as colonoscopies and MRI scans. He also paid children at his son’s birthday party to have blood drawn for research purposes, an act that ‘showed a callous disregard’ for the ‘distress and pain’ of the children, the panel said.”
  • CNN: “A September 2008 study replicated key parts of Wakefield’s original paper and found no evidence that the vaccine had a connection to either autism or GI disorders. The study, conducted at Columbia University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the CDC, also found no relationship between the timing of the vaccine and children getting GI disorders or autism.”

Researchers, parents, doctors, and lawyers still have strong positions on both sides of the fence. I don’t think that this retraction is necessarily the death-blow to any remaining autism litigation, though. Though the study is retracted, it was retracted more on “procedural” grounds than because of the substantive science. I’d be interested to hear from any plaintiffs’ attorneys who are doing this vaccine litigation—how does this affect your cases?