Published in the journal Lancet
Volume 358 (9297)  December 8th, 2001

The UK researcher who controversially proposed a link between measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination and inflammatory bowel disease/autism has stepped down from his post. Andrew Wakefield left the Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, on Nov 30. "The hierarchy of the medical school decided it did not wish the work to continue there", Wakefield told The Lancet.

The "MMR-autism controversy" started at a press conference in 1998, when Wakefield argued that because of uncertainty about its safety, the MMR vaccine should be withdrawn. This claim--which was not shared by his co-workers--was made on the grounds that there was an association between autism and intestinal abnormalities in 12 children and a possible relation with MMR vaccination (Lancet 1998; 351: 637-41). Criticisms of the study and Wakefield's interpretation of the data have followed.

A different research group from Wakefield's institution led by Brent Taylor published evidence contradicting the alleged association (Lancet 1999; 353: 2026-29).

Last week, University College London stated: "Dr Wakefield's research was no longer in line with the department of medicine's research strategy and he left the university by mutual agreement."

Wakefield claimed that the decisions made about his work were rooted in politics rather than science. He told The Lancet that he had asked whether those who had made the decision regarding whether to support the continuation of his research had read any of the work he and colleagues had published. "I can only assume it [the research] was politically incorrect", he said.

The work, however, will continue. Wakefield told The Lancet that he has come to an agreement with the medical school that he will have access to data and samples, and will continue the MMR research as an independent investigator in collaboration with ex-colleagues at the medical school and at other research centres over the next 2 years. Wakefield stated that his priority remains the wellbeing of children whom he believes have been affected by the vaccine. "They mustn't be put aside because they represent something uncomfortable for medicine", he said. "I am not anti-vaccine, and still think children should be vaccinated, but not with this formulation", he added.

A representative of University College told The Lancet: "Dr Wakefield left his post by mutual agreement and will have received a generous financial package."