Respected British medical journal The Lancet has retracted Andrew Wakefield’s controversial paper suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine and the development of autism.

According to The Lancet, the retraction comes after an investigation by the General Medical Council revealed that “several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect”. Claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by ethics committees have been proven to be false, it said.

Last week the GMC ruled - contrary to an earlier investigation by the Royal Free Hosptial back in 2004 - that Wakefield’s research was indeed fundamentally flawed, effectively drawing a line under the 12-year saga over whether children given the multiple MMR vaccine were at greater risk from autism.

But the damage has already been done, as Wakefield’s repeated calls for individual vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella following the publication of his research sowed seeds of doubt in the minds of many parents, causing rates of MMR vaccination to drop considerably thereby putting children at greater risk of infection from these diseases.

In 2008, the Department of Health estimated that around three million children aged 18 months to 18 years have not had their first or second MMR vaccination, prompting then Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson to ask that primary care trusts expand their vaccination programmes and target campaigns towards the parents of unvaccinated children.

Richard Horton, The Lancet's editor, told newspaper the Guardian that Wakefield “was dishonest” and had “deceived the journal”, and stressed that while the journal did all it could to establish the validity of his research through the peer-review channel, as this system is based entirely on trust there is a limit to its effectiveness.