Dr Andrew Wakefield stands with his wife, Carmel, as he talks to reporters at the General Medical Council in London, England. A prestigious British medical journal has retracted a controversial 12-year-old article that first linked autism to childhood vaccines and set off global fears about immunization and the causes of the developmental disorder that persist today. Medical experts and some advocates for people with autism said the move was long overdue, but few expected the retraction to change the minds of vaccine skeptics.In the years since the Lancet published Dr. Andrew Wakefield's study, numerous review articles have rebutted his claims that the combination measles, mumps and rubella vaccine causes autism. Nevertheless, a vocal minority of parents and their supporters have clung to the notion that the vaccine is unsafe. Recent studies have shown an increase in parents who are opting out of some routine childhood vaccinations, alarming public health experts who fear that diseases once nearly eradicated could return. "This is welcome. It's overdue; this paper should never have been published," said Dr. Neal Halsey, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who added that it is highly unusual for a prominent medical journal to retract an article. "Dr. Wakefield has stated in the reviews that he was not honest. There is nothing to this hypothesis, that's the bottom line. But unfortunately, it took hold and has been given credibility when it should never have been credible."
Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images