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Health News

Timeline: How the Andrew Wakefield MMR vaccine scare story spread


October 1988

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.

September 1992

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.

February 1998

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.

January 2001

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.

December 2001

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.

February 2004

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.

March 2004

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.

April 2006

As measles outbreaks occur across Britain, the first death in the UK from the disease in 14 years is reported.

July 2007

The General Medical Council opens its case alleging serious professional misconduct by Dr Wakefield and two co-authors of the Lancet paper.

February 2010

The Lancet retracts the 1998 paper. The editor Richard Horton describes aspects of it as “utterly false” and says he “felt deceived”.

May 2010

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.