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Doctor who linked vaccines, autism acted unethically, British medical council rules

Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the investigator whose research sparked fears of a link between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, was rebuked on ethical grounds in a British medical regulator's report released in late January. The General Medical Council said Dr. Wakefield acted "with callous disregard for the distress and pain" that children would experience after being subjected to blood draws, lumbar punctures and other tests that were clinically unnecessary and not approved by his hospital's ethics committee. The council, which registers and regulates physicians in the United Kingdom, said Dr. Wakefield misled an ethics committee at London's Royal Free Hospital about his work. The council released its findings Jan. 28 ( The council found that two of Dr. Wakefield's research colleagues also broke ethics rules. The council will next move to consider disciplinary action, which could include barring the doctors from medical practice. Dr. Wakefield did not respond to an American Medical News interview request by this article's deadline. In a news conference, he called the council's findings "unfounded and unjust." The panel did not comment on the scientific validity of Dr. Wakefield's research, published in The Lancet in 1998, which speculated about a potential link between the MMR vaccine, gastrointestinal disease and developmental regression in 12 autistic children. The journal retracted the article days after the council's findings were released, saying several statements in the paper were proven false. The 1998 study prompted waves of scientific research, producing an overwhelming rejection of any vaccine-autism link. But fear spread faster than science, with MMR vaccine rates plummeting in Britain and cases of measles and mumps soaring into the thousands annually. Physicians said the official repudiation of Dr. Wakefield's work came too little, too late. "We have never been able to get the demon back in Pandora's box," said Paul A. Offit, MD, co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine and chief of the infectious diseases division at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "The study didn't hit this country as hard as England. Immunization rates there have never returned to what they used to be." Louis Z. Cooper, MD, a longtime vaccine researcher, said "the damage has been done." "There is now this ocean of cynicism [about vaccines] in which all of us swim and it will take continued, sustained effort to undo it," said Dr. Cooper, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. The full and original article can be found here:
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