Timeline: How the Andrew Wakefield MMR vaccine scare story spread
Jeremy Laurance is a writer on health issues. He is former health editor of The Independent and the i and has covered the specialism for more than 20 years. He thinks the harm medicine does is under-appreciated, the harm it prevents over-rated, and that cycling works better than most drugs. He was named Specialist Journalist of the Year in the 2011 British Press Awards.
Friday 12 April 2013
The three-in-one measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is introduced to the UK after successful use in the US. Previously, single measles and rubella vaccines were used, and there was no mumps vaccine.
The Department of Health withdraws two brands of MMR vaccine after research suggests they are associated with a raised incidence of transient mumps meningitis, although much lower than with natural disease.
The Lancet publishes a 12-patient case series by Andrew Wakefield and 12 others, proposing a link between MMR and a “new syndrome” of autism and bowel disease. At a press conference, he urges the use of single vaccines instead of MMR.
The Daily Mail and other newspapers launch campaigns backing Dr Wakefield after he publishes a purported review of his evidence and repeats his calls for single vaccines.
The Prime Minister Tony Blair is ambushed by Dr Wakefield’s supporters, who claim Mr Blair’s son Leo did not have the MMR jab. The Blairs initially decline to comment but later deny the claim.
An investigation by Brian Deer of The Sunday Times reveals that the Legal Aid Board funded the Lancet research and that many of the children were litigants.
Ten of the 1998 paper’s 13 authors, excluding Dr Wakefield, retract its “interpretation” section, which claimed an association in time between MMR, enterocolitis, and regressive developmental disorders.
As measles outbreaks occur across Britain, the first death in the UK from the disease in 14 years is reported.
The General Medical Council opens its case alleging serious professional misconduct by Dr Wakefield and two co-authors of the Lancet paper.
The Lancet retracts the 1998 paper. The editor Richard Horton describes aspects of it as “utterly false” and says he “felt deceived”.
After a 217-day inquiry, the GMC panel finds Dr Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct and orders that his name be struck off the medical register.
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