"We fully retract this paper from the published record," Lancet editors said in a statement.
The move comes days after the U.K.'s General Medical Council, a government regulatory agency, ruled that Dr. Andrew Wakefield acted improperly during his research. Lancet Editor Richard Horton said he didn't have sufficient evidence to retract the study until the council's independent investigation was complete.
Wakefield, a gastroenterologist who now works in the U.S., is largely held responsible for the widespread panic over vaccinations that led to a surge in children not being immunized against measles, mumps and rubella, for fear that the injections could lead to illness. Following the publication of Wakefield's study, MMR vaccination rates in the U.K. dropped from 92 to 80 percent.
Questions about the integrity of his research have been circulating for years. Several subsequent studies have largely discredited Wakefield's results, and 10 of the study's 13 authors have since rejected its results. Last year, reports surfaced that Wakefield "may have altered data" after being paid $1 million to examine autistic children whose parents blamed the MMR vaccine for the illness, according to Slate.com.
Despite the longtime dismissal of the 1998 study by medical professionals, and piles of new research, vaccination debates have continued to rage, with startling health implications for children. In England and Wales, measles rates soared by 80 percent from 2007 to 2008. Here in the U.S, the CDC reports that vaccinations are at an all-time high, but measles outbreaks are at unprecedented levels, largely due to parents who opt out of immunizations.
Thoughtful House didn't return calls for comment, but the CDC has issued a statement to CNN, praising the Lancet's decision:
"It builds on the overwhelming body of research by the world's leading scientists that concludes there is no link between MMR vaccine and autism. We want to remind parents that vaccines are very safe and effective and they save lives. Parents who have questions about the safety of vaccines should talk to their pediatrician or their child's health care provider."
The retraction also comes a day after the competing British Medical Journal called for the Lancet to take action. Of the study, commentary authors wrote that "the arguments were considered by many to be proven and the ghastly social drama of the demon vaccine took on a life of its own."