The chart above, published in November 2012 by the NHS Health and Social Care Information Service, reports the changing uptake of the three-in-one measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) in England. These annual figures combine the last three quarters of each year with the first quarter of the next.
The declines in public confidence, seen on the left and centre of the chart, were caused by a now-disgraced British former doctor, Andrew Wakefield, who in February 1998 published research in the Lancet medical journal, secretly commissioned and paid for by lawyers, purporting to link the vaccine with regressive autism and what Wakefield claimed was a newly discovered inflammatory bowel disease.
On the right of the chart a gradual recovery is seen, tracking some seven years of award-winning investigative reports for The Sunday Times of London, the UK's Channel 4 television network and BMJ, the British Medical Journal.
Ironically, the decline in parental acceptance of MMR provided a natural test of Wakefield's claims. Were his (patented) assertions that the vaccine caused autism and bowel disease true, then one would expect to see both conditions declining in the years after his 1998 paper, when vaccination rates fell, and then increasing as rates rose again. But, of course, this was not the pattern.
In 2009, special masters in the United States Court of Federal Claims condemned Wakefield's conduct. In 2010, he was erased from the UK medical register, and his Lancet paper was retracted by the journal. He was expelled from the Royal College of Pathologists, and was ousted from a $280,000-a-year job he held in Austin, Texas. In 2011, the BMJ denounced his research as "an elaborate fraud", and it was discovered that for many years he had misled vulnerable parents by falsely claiming to be a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.
Time Magazine dubbed Wakefield one of the "great science frauds" of modern history. But, as the chart above shows, his mischief in England is past.