Study Linking Vaccine to Autism Broke Research Rules, U.K. Regulators Say
MMR/Autism Doctor Acted 'Dishonestly,' 'Irresponsibly'
Rob Hicks, MD
WebMD News Archive
(Editor's Note: On Feb. 2, 2010, The Lancet formally
retracted the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al., noting that claims made in
the paper "have been proved to be false.")
Jan. 29, 2010 - The British doctor who led a study suggesting a link between
the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine
and autism acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly," a U.K.
regulatory panel has ruled.
The panel represents the U.K. General Medical Council (GMC), which regulates
the medical profession. It ruled only on whether Andrew Wakefield,
MD, and two colleagues acted properly in carrying out their research, and
not on whether MMR vaccine has anything to do
In the ruling, the GMC used strong language to condemn the methods used by
Wakefield in conducting the study.
In the study, published 12 years ago, Wakefield and colleagues suggested
there was a
link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Their study included only 12
children, but wide media coverage set off a panic among
parents. Vaccinations plummeted; there was a subsequent increase in U.K.
In 2004, 10 of the study's 13 authors disavowed the findings, originally
published in the U.K. medical journal The Lancet. Investigative
journalists in the U.K. later discovered that Wakefield -- prior to designing
the study -- had accepted payment from lawyers suing vaccine manufacturers for
Fitness to Practice
The GMC's Fitness to Practise panel heard evidence and submissions for 148
days over two and a half years, hearing from 36 witnesses. It then spent 45
days deciding the outcome of the hearing. Besides Wakefield, two former
colleagues went before the panel -John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch. They were
all found to have broken guidelines.
The disciplinary hearing found Wakefield showed a "callous disregard" for
the suffering of children and abused his position of trust. He'd also "failed
in his duties as a responsible consultant."
He'd taken blood samples from children attending his son's birthday party in
return for money, and was later filmed joking about it at a conference.
He'd also failed to disclose he'd received money for advising lawyers acting
for parents who claimed their children had been harmed by the triple
Not Over Yet
The GMC will next decide whether Wakefield and his former colleagues
committed serious professional misconduct. That could lead to being struck off
the medical register. That decision may not be taken for several more
Wakefield wasn't in the hearing, but outside the GMC offices he told
reporters, "Naturally I am extremely disappointed by the outcome of today's
proceedings. The allegations against me and against my colleagues are both
unfounded and unjust." He continued, "I invite anyone to examine the contents
of these proceedings and come to their own conclusion."