The doctor who sparked the MMR controversy “showed a callous disregard” for the suffering of children and “abused his position of trust”, a disciplinary panel has ruled.
The General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK has handed down their findings on Dr Andrew Wakefield and two colleagues who are credited with catalysing the Measles, Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine scare in 1998.
Thousands of parents opted out of having their children vaccinated following the publishing of a paper in the journal ‘The Lancet’ linking MMR with gastrointestinal disorders and autism.
Wakefield’s findings resonated world wide firmly establishing the anti-vaccination movement and resulting in outbreaks of vaccine preventable disease.
The enquiry sat for 148 days and was estimated to have cost one million pounds. The GMC’s disciplinary panel of experts ruled Dr Wakefield showed a ‘callous disregard’ for children’s suffering and abused his position of trust.
His conduct brought the medical profession ‘into disrepute’ after he took blood samples from youngsters at his son’s birthday party in return for payment. He also acted dishonestly and was misleading and irresponsible in the way he described research later published in The Lancet medical journal. More seriously, he was charged with causing pain to sick children by unnecessary painful, intrusive diagnostic treatments
Dr Wakefield faces being struck off the medical register after the panel decided the allegations against him could amount to serious professional misconduct, which will be decided at a later date.
Although The Lancet study did not demonstrate the MMR vaccine as dangerous, Dr Wakefield warned parents to have single injections against measles, mumps and rubella. The claim has been widely discredited. Subsequent studies into the safety of vaccines have demonstrated no link between vaccination, the mercury based preservative thimerosal and autism.
But the anti-vaccination movement calls the findings “unjust”, a “smear campaign” and “a sad day for our children.” Generation Rescue, a militant anti-vaccination group in the US, issued a statement of support saying;
“Dr. Andrew Wakefield is perhaps this debate’s greatest hero. He’s a doctor who has held onto the truth, unbowed, through pressure that would break most mortals. Dr. Wakefield’s influence in saving other children from the fate that befell so many children is incalculable.”
Already petitions have sprung up in support of the Dr who they call “a man of integrity, courage and proven commitment to children and public health.”
But sadly, the facts surrounding this case do not reflect this belief. Wakefield defends his decision to use children at the birthday party as a control group for his study. He continues to believe it was not unethical.
“I had fully informed parent and child consent. The ethics committee is there to protect NHS patients, and these weren’t NHS patients.”
Investigations by Sunday Times journalist Brian Deer revealed that Wakefield had not revealed serious conflicts of interest when submitting his paper for publication. Deer claims he was paid four hundred thousands pounds by lawyers seeking a link between the vaccine and autism. Further, Wakefield had a patent pending on a single measles vaccine, just like the one he urged parents to seek out the press conference following the publishing of the paper.
In 2004, ten of the twelve authors on the paper withdrew their names from the paper.
“We wish to make it clear that in this paper no causal link established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient. However the possibility of such a link was raised and consequent events have had major implications for public health.”
The decision as to whether Wakefield is struck off the medical register in the UK is expected to be handed down in the next few months. He currently resides in Texas where he is the director of a alternative medicine clinic, Thoughtful House, which has also been accused of using dubious treatments such a chelation.