Published online: May 26, 2018
The comment “Increased incidence of cervical cancer in Sweden: Possible link with HPV vaccination” (DOI: 10.20529/IJME.2018.037) was published online in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics on April 30, 2018 (1). The author gave his name and affiliation as Lars Andersson, department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet (KI), Sweden. On May 8, as soon as KI informed us that no such person worked there, we carried out a correction on the same day and the institution’s name was removed as affiliation (2).
On inquiry, the author informed us that he had used a pseudonym besides a false affiliation. He later made his identity known to IJME’s editor on the promise of strict confidentiality. On verification of his identity, the editor confirmed that (a) the author had the necessary qualifications, expertise and research experience on the subject of the article; and (b) the author did face a credible threat of harm, making it necessary not to be named publicly.
Further we reconfirmed the reviewers’ conclusions: that the article used publicly available data with a simple statistical method; made a fair attempt to report a possible association of the increased incidence of carcinoma cervix with HPV vaccination; and suggested more research. We felt that the data and analysis could be scientifically appreciated and critiqued without reference to the author. Therefore, despite the author’s unacceptable deception, the editors decided to retain the article having already made a correction to remove the false affiliation.
Following our decision, we received valuable advice from our editorial board and other well-wishers, emphasising that there should be zero tolerance to the author’s deception, irrespective of the content of the paper. While our assessment of the science of the article may be correct, we have concluded that tolerating the author’s deception and retaining the article was an error of judgment. We express our deep gratitude to them and have accepted their advice.
Thus, this article is hereby retracted. We will provide a detailed account of this issue, with the nuances involved, in an editorial on a later date.
As editors, we are wary of the extreme ideological divide that views discussions on vaccines as either “pro” or “anti”. In low and middle-income countries like India, where early HPV infection and incidence of carcinoma cervix are relatively high, scientific discussion and resolution of issues concerning the HPV vaccine is critical, for women receiving it, and for policy making on its introduction in the universal immunisation programme. We hope that the hypothesis of possible harm of vaccinating women previously exposed to HPV is carefully explored in future studies.
Note: Corrected on July 22, 2018.