LONDON The UK government earlier this week announced a major publicity campaign to reassure parents about the safety of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, after a unique high-level summit was held to work out how to regain public confidence. The vaccine has become controversial because of claims — based on studies lead by one researcher, Andrew Wakefield, a consultant gastroenterologist at the Royal Free Hospital, London — that it might be linked to autism and bowel disease.

The MMR controversy was triggered initially by a study published in 1998, which claimed to show that MMR is linked to autism and intestinal abnormalities (Lancet 1998, 351:637–641). The study assessed 12 children who were referred to a paediatric gastroenterology unit with a history of normal development followed by loss of acquired skills, including language, together with diarrhoea and abdominal pain. The researchers reported that the parents associated the...

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