Prestigious medical journal The
Lancet has retracted a study that linked childhood vaccinations to autism and
led to a rise in measles after its author was found to have acted unethically.
The paper, written by Andrew
Wakefield and published in The Lancet medical journal in 1998, claimed the
combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccination could be linked to autism and
The United Kingdom’s General
Medical Council ruled last week that Dr. Wakefield participated in
“dishonesty and misleading conduct”.
Medical professionals in Cayman say
a small minority of parents have been reluctant to vaccinate their children
with the so-called MMR vaccination, fearing that it was related to autism.
Paediatrician Dr. Cecily Abraham
said some mothers have put off getting the vaccine until their children are
about to start school.
“A few put off getting it until the
children are two, or three or older, but most get it eventually,” she said.
However, she described one mother,
whose first child is autistic, who decided against getting any vaccinations for
her second child, fearing there was a link between autism and the vaccinations,
as laid out in the 1998 Lancet report.
Dr. Kiran Kumar, the Cayman Islands
Medical Officer of Health said that 99 per cent of children in Cayman had
received the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination by school age, but there
were still a small number of parents who either for religious reasons or
because they had concerns about a link to autism, chose not to vaccinate their
“It is recommended that children
get the MMR vaccination, but it is not mandatory,” he said. “Children who are
not vaccinated, if there is a major outbreak of measles, would be excused from
school because they can still transmit it while it is incubating.”
He said there had not been a
measles outbreak in Cayman since 1991.
“Sometimes, we have seen parents
from the UK who have concerns, but not recently. There is a very good uptake
for the MMR vaccinations [locally],” he added.
The editors of The Lancet issued a
retraction of the article, which has been credited with causing the number of
vaccinations for MMR to plummet, and leading to a rise in measles.
In a statement, the magazine
editors said: “Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s
Fitness to Practise Panel on 28 January, 2010, it has become clear that several
elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al 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
The accuracy of the article has been repeatedly
challenged over the years, and in 2004, the Lancet editors argued that they had
been right to publish it because the journal was there to “raise new ideas”.