British doctor who linked vaccine to autism struck off register

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A British doctor who linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism was struck off the medical register Monday after being found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

The General Medical Council (GMC) found Andrew Wakefield, 53, had acted in a way that was "dishonest", "misleading" and "irresponsible" while conducting research on a possible link between the vaccine, bowel disease and autism.

Wakefield's 1998 study in The Lancet medical journal in which he linked MMR and autism sparked huge controversy, and despite experts and governments insisting the jab was safe, caused a huge slump in the vaccination rate.

The Lancet retracted the article earlier this year after the GMC ruled Wakefield had acted "dishonestly" while carrying out his research.

The doctor, who was an honorary consultant in experimental gastroenterology at London's Royal Free Hospital at the time of his research, had previously described the allegations as "unfounded and unjust".

In a statement responding to Monday's ruling, he said the case against him and his retired 73-year-old colleague, Professor John Walker-Smith, who was also struck off at the same time, was an attempt to silence him.

"In reporting their findings the GMC panel sought to deny that the case against me and my colleagues is related to issues of MMR vaccine safety and specifically, the role of this vaccine in causing autism," he said.

"This is not in fact the case. Efforts to discredit and silence me through the GMC process have provided a screen to shield the government from exposure on the (Pluserix) MMR vaccine scandal."

The two men have 28 days to appeal. Another colleague, Professor Simon Murch, was found not guilty.

The GMC panel heard how Wakefield had ordered some children in his care to undergo unnecessary colonoscopies, lumbar punctures (spinal taps), barium meals, blood and urine tests and brain scans as part of his research.

The doctor also took blood from his son's friends at a birthday party, paying the youngsters five pounds (seven dollars, six euros) each.

"The panel concluded that Dr. Wakefield's conduct not only collectively amounts to serious professional misconduct over a timeframe from 1996 to 1999 but also, considered individually, constitutes multiple separate instances of serious professional misconduct," panel chairman Dr. Surendra Kumar said.

Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the suggestion of a link between autism and MMR had done "untold damage" to Britain's vaccination programme.

"We cannot stress too strongly that all children and young people should have the MMR vaccine. Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that it is safe," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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