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The MMR vaccine: public health, private fears
The MMR vaccine: public health, private fears

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11 Reading 4: The lessons of MMR

11.1 The lessons of MMR

Horton, R. (2004) ‘The lessons of MMR’, The Lancet, 363, 6 March 2004, pp 747–749 Elsevier. Copyright © 2004 Elsevier.

This week, The Lancet prints a partial retraction – a retraction of an interpretation1 – from the majority of authors of a paper published in February, 1998, by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues.2 Wakefield and one other co-author, Peter Harvey, have not signed this retraction statement. We hope to publish their response very shortly. The original report2 made clear that the authors “did not prove an association” between measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and a newly described syndrome of bowel disease and autism. But the authors did raise the possibility of a link, on the basis of parental and medical histories, and they suggested that “further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome and its possible relation to this vaccine”. This interpretation of their data, together with a suggestion made by Wakefield during a separate press conference held at the Royal Free Hospital that there was a case for splitting the MMR vaccine into its component parts, triggered a collapse in confidence in the UK's MMR vaccination programme. It is the interpretation expressed about a connection between the vaccine and the new syndrome that is now being retracted. Today's retraction comes after debate following the release of new information 2 weeks ago about the circumstances surrounding the publication of this work.3 An enormous amount of effort has gone into reviewing and analysing the events before and after publication of the 1998 article. It is now time to look forward.