May 24, 2010 11:45 AM by Melissa Canone
LONDON (AP) - A gastroenterologist who persuaded millions of
parents worldwide that a common vaccine could cause autism was
barred from practicing medicine in his native Britain on Monday
after the country's top medical group found he conducted his
Dr. Andrew Wakefield was the first researcher to publish a
peer-reviewed study suggesting a connection between autism and the
vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella. That prompted legions of
parents to abandon the vaccine in moves that epidemiologists feared
could lead to outbreaks of the potentially deadly diseases.
Vaccination rates in Britain and other rich countries have not
fully recovered since Wakefield and his colleagues' research was
published in 1998 and there are measles outbreaks across Europe
every year. The disease is also on the rise in the U.S.
His study in the medical journal Lancet was widely discredited,
however, after Britain's medical regulator found it did not meet
ethical standards; other studies found no link; and a British
journalist revealed Wakefield had been paid by lawyers of parents
who suspected their children were harmed by the vaccine.
Wakefield, 53, moved to the U.S. in 2004 and set up an autism
center in Texas, where he gained a wide following despite not being
licenced as a doctor there, and faced similar skepticism from the
medical community. He quit earlier this year.
Britain's General Medical Council was acting Monday on a January
ruling that said Wakefield and two other doctors acted unethically
and showed a "callous disregard" for the children in their study.
The medical body said Wakefield took blood samples from children at
his son's birthday party, paying them 5 pounds (today worth $7.20)
each and later joked about the incident.
The council, which licenses and oversees doctors, found him
guilty of serious professional misconduct and stripped him of his
right to practice medicine in the U.K. Wakefield has the right to
appeal the ruling, which takes effect within 28 days. The
investigation focused on how Wakefield and colleagues carried out
their research, not on the science behind it.
Wakefield said in January that the medical council's
investigation was an effort to "discredit and silence" him to
"shield the government from exposure on the (measles) vaccine
Appearing from New York on NBC's "Today Show" on Monday,
Wakefield described the British decision as "a little bump on the
road." He claimed the U.S. government has been settling cases of
vaccine-induced autism since 1991.
Wakefield said the council's ruling against him had been "made
from the outset" and vowed to continue his research into the link
between vaccines and autism.
"These parents are not going away; the children are not going
to go away and I most certainly am not going away," he said.
Numerous studies have been conducted since Wakefield's and none
has found a connection between autism and any vaccine.
Two rulings by a special branch of the U.S. Court of Federal
Claims in March and last year found no link between vaccines and
autism. But more than 5,500 claims have been filed by families
seeking compensation for children believed to have been hurt by the
Wakefield has garnered much support from parents suspicious of
vaccines, including some Hollywood celebrities. In February, U.S.
actress Jenny McCarthy, who has an autistic son, issued a statement
with her former partner Jim Carrey.
"It is our most sincere belief that Dr. Wakefield and parents
of children with autism around the world are being subjected to a
remarkable media campaign engineered by vaccine manufacturers,"
McCarthy and Carrey said in February. "Dr. Wakefield is being
vilified through a well-orchestrated smear campaign."
In Monday's ruling, the medical council said Wakefield abused
his position as a doctor and "brought the medical profession into
At the time, Wakefield was working as a gastroenterologist at
London's Royal Free Hospital and did not have the ethical approval
to conduct the study. He had also been paid to advise lawyers
representing parents who believed their children had been hurt by
the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.
Ten of the study's authors later renounced its conclusions and
it was retracted by the Lancet in February.
At least a dozen British medical associations including the
Royal College of Physicians, the Medical Research Council and the
Wellcome Trust have issued statements verifying the safety of the
measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.
"I hope this ruling will finally persuade the public and some
misguided journalists that Dr. Wakefield behaved irresponsibly,"
said Dr. Jennifer Best, a virologist at King's College University
in London. "(The measles) vaccine is a safe vaccine."