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Doctor who linked autism to vaccine loses license in Britain

Medical board finds research was unethical

STRONG REACTION Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s research prompted legions of parents to abandon the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. STRONG REACTION
Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s research prompted legions of parents to abandon the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.
By Maria Cheng
Associated Press / May 25, 2010

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LONDON — A doctor who persuaded millions of parents worldwide that a common vaccine could cause autism was barred from practicing medicine in his native Britain yesterday after the country’s top medical group found he conducted his research unethically.

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. There are also sporadic outbreaks of the disease in the United States.

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 United States in 2004 and set up an autism center in Texas, where he gained a wide following despite not being licensed as a doctor there, and faced similar skepticism from the medical community. He quit earlier this year.

Britain’s General Medical Council was acting yesterday 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 UK. Wakefield said he plans 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 scandal.’’

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