LONDON (Reuters) - A doctor whose claims of links between vaccination and autism triggered a scientific storm before being widely discredited was struck off the medical register Monday for professional misconduct.
Dr Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 study led many parents to refuse to have their children vaccinated with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot and has been blamed for a big rise in measles cases in the United States and parts of Europe in recent years.
A disciplinary panel of the General Medical Council (GMC) found that Wakefield had acted in a “dishonest,” “misleading” and “irresponsible” way during his research.
The ruling means Wakefield, who now lives and works in the United States, can no longer practise as a doctor in Britain, but can continue to work in medicine outside the UK.
His paper, published in The Lancet medical journal but since widely discredited, caused one of the biggest medical rows in a generation.
“The panel has determined that Dr Wakefield’s name should be erased from the medical register,” the GMC said in a statement.
Wakefield had failed to disclose various details about the funding of the study -- a failure the GMC described as “dishonest and misleading” -- and had acted “contrary to the clinical interests” of the children involved in his research.
Striking Wakefield off the medical register was “the only sanction that is appropriate to protect patients” and was in the wider public interest. It was also “proportionate to the serious and wide-ranging findings made against him,” the statement said.
Data released last February for England and Wales showed a rise in measles cases of more than 70 percent in 2008 from the previous year, mostly due to a fall in the number of children being vaccinated. Vaccination rates are now recovering.
Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the false suggestion of a link between autism and the MMR vaccine had caused “untold damage” to vaccination programs.
“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 in a statement.
Wakefield defended his work, and said the GMC had sought to deny that the case against him was related to whether the vaccine was safe, and specifically, whether it caused autism.
“Efforts to discredit and silence me through the GMC process have provided a screen to shield the government from exposure on the ... MMR vaccine scandal,” he said in a statement.
The GMC said his refusal to accept that he had made mistakes meant that a temporary suspension of Wakefield’s licence was not enough and he should be banned altogether.
“Dr Wakefield’s continued lack of insight as to his misconduct serve only to satisfy the panel that suspension is not sufficient and that his actions are incompatible with his continued registration as a medical practitioner,” it said.
Editing by Andrew Roche