Ruling on doctor in MMR scare

Behind the Headlines

Friday January 29 2010

Research has overwhelmingly shown that MMR is safe

The doctor who sparked the MMR controversy was “dishonest, irresponsible and showed callous disregard for the distress and pain” of children, the General Medical Council (GMC) has ruled. The ruling has been reported by many newspapers.

The GMC said Dr Andrew Wakefield “abused his position of trust” when conducting research into a proposed link between the MMR vaccine, autism and bowel disorders. He carried out clinically unnecessary and invasive tests on children without ethical approval or appropriate qualifications.

Wakefield also failed to disclose conflicts of interest to The Lancet medical journal, which in 1998 published the research paper that sparked the MMR scare. The paper has since been withdrawn by The Lancet and discredited. The scare nonetheless led to a dramatic drop in MMR vaccination rates and a rise in cases of measles.

The ruling comes after a two-and-a-half-year investigation by the GMC.

 

Why did The Lancet publish the flawed research in the first place?

Wakefield failed to declare a number of conflicting interests when submitting the paper for publication. These included the fact that he and several of the children in the study were involved in a lawsuit attempting to show that MMR was linked to autism.

The Lancet withdrew the paper after this was revealed by a Sunday Times investigation in February 2004. The journal said Wakefield’s undisclosed interests affected the study’s “suitability, credibility, and validity for publication”. Subsequently 11 of its 13 authors also withdrew their support for the research.

 

Is there any evidence that MMR causes autism?

Absolutely none. There has not been a single credible study that has shown a risk of MMR causing autism, despite tens of millions of children around the world receiving the vaccine.

On the contrary, numerous high-quality research studies support the safety of MMR.

The latest systematic review, conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration, analysed evidence from 31 studies and concluded that there was no evidence for a link between MMR and autism.
 
In 2003, following an extensive review, the World Health Organization stated there was no evidence to suggest MMR caused autism

All results of published vaccine trials reaffirm the safety and efficacy of the MMR vaccine. Rates of autism have not increased since the MMR vaccination was introduced.

 

Why did a single flawed study trigger such a huge health scare? 

The Lancet is a revered medical journal and, despite Wakefield’s study being small and scientifically weak, it received widespread high-profile media coverage.

Unusually, the findings were first revealed at a televised press conference and Wakefield - a charismatic individual - was outspoken in promoting the idea of a link between MMR and autism.

The scientific and medical establishment understood that Wakefield’s single small study proved nothing but it failed to get its message across. It also failed to investigate and uncover the facts about how Wakefield had conducted his research.
This allowed the story to run for more than five years until the investigative journalist Brian Deer  published his expose in 2004.

 

Why has it taken the GMC more than five years to rule on Wakefield's actions?

This has been the longest hearing held by the General Medical Council. A panel of three GPs and two lay members has sat for a total of 187 days since the hearing was first launched. They had to consider and hear evidence from 36 witnesses on dozens of allegations. The charge sheet (PDF) runs to 95 pages - 34 of them devoted to Dr Wakefield alone. These range from Wakefield’s undisclosed conflicts of interest when publishing the research, to unethical treatment of autistic children, including the use of unnecessary and invasive tests.

 

What was its verdict?

The GMC said Dr Wakefield had acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly”. Among the allegations levelled against him were the use of unethical medical techniques and the failure to disclose his role as a paid adviser in a lawsuit claiming MMR had harmed children. Two other authors of the Lancet paper, Prof John Walker-Smith and Prof Simon Murch, also breached rules of conduct. Read the full verdict (PDF).

A GMC panel will meet in April to rule on the doctors’ fitness to practise. If they are found guilty of serious professional misconduct, they could be struck off the medical register.

 

How much damage has the MMR scare done? 

The scare caused MMR vaccination rates to fall sharply. This in turn led to a sharp rise in cases of measles, putting children’s lives at risk. Vaccination rates have climbed again in recent years but have yet to recover to pre-scare levels.

 

Should I get my child vaccinated?

Absolutely. MMR vaccination has an exceptional safety record and is the best way to protect children from measles, a potentially serious condition that can blind, cause brain damage or even kill. MMR also protects against mumps and rubella, two serious but preventable diseases that can cause major complications.

 

Where can I find out more?

There are a number of evidence-based resources to help parents understand MMR and vaccination:

NHS Choices Health A-Z: MMR vaccination

NHS Choices Health A-Z: vaccinations

NHS Choices Birth to Five: reviews, tests and vaccinations

Health Protection Agency: vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella

The National Autistic Society: statement on MMR

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Comments

The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

georgi046 said on 30 April 2013

Here is my take on the matter. I had Guillaine Barre Syndrome- caused by a tetanus Vaccination. Two years later my son had the MMR and is now autistic. I have a little girl who is now 10 and unvaccinated. I believe fully in the claims made by Mr Wakefield. These types of drug need far more research to reach conclusive proof. Enough parents came forward with similar incidences of Autism but were not heard. The government over here does not recognise Autism-MMR purely for monetary reasons and obviously the 'Egg on yer Face Factor'. It was the same case with Tetanus-Guillaine Barre. Its all money and lets face it, we all know how corrupt the Goverments are or have been over the years. In the US claims for these two caused illnesses have been successful. Its all down to money folks!!

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nallaeizzil said on 12 August 2012

I find the condemning of these doctors for investigating a possible danger very disturbing. I find the NHS absolute arrogant confidence in the safety of vaccinations both disturbing and quite frankly suspect. Apparently I read on the NHS website that seizures and fits are now an accepted side effect of MMR, and yet in the year 2000 when my then 2 yr old daughter received her MMR and subsequently suffered a series of quite distressing fits and seizures I was ridiculed by every health professional to whom I suggested there might be a connection. I am owed an apology, and I will never trust the NHS again as far as vaccinations go. And no, I will not be giving my daughter(now 14) the HPV vaccine; I do not trust a word you health professionals say. You do not have my daughters best interests at heart.

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User200326 said on 07 March 2011

I have had my daughter vaccinated with the MMR vaccine. All medical procedures carry some risk, but that has to be weighed against the benefits. I prefer to make my decisions about my child's health based on scientific evidence, not anecdotes. What is exceptionally clear is the terrible damage these diseases can do in a world without vaccination. Before vaccination the MMR viruses caused disability and even death. I am pleased to have protected my daughter against these risks.

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jottie said on 24 May 2010

My best friend's son would be dead now if it wasn't for Dr Wakefield and Professor Murch. This case was brought by a journalist.......no parents have ever complained about these doctors. Quite the contrary, the parents are grateful. The GMC did not listen to any evidence from the parents of the children concerned; they mounted a case that was tantamount to a witch hunt. Shame on them. I hope that both Andrew Wakefield and John Walker Smith appeal.
Debbie - I think you are very wise to opt for the single vaccine for your daughter given that you have an autistic son. It's a small price to pay for peace of mind!

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drjames said on 26 March 2010

I am not sure what goes on behind the walls of the GMC, or how doctors go about disciplining their members.
But I will tell you the interesting case of my brother and Autism.
My brother was born in 1961. In those days the MMR vaccine did not exist. When my mother was about 3 months pregnant with my brother she had a vaccination against Rubella. Rubella of course is one of the components of the MMR vaccine.
After my brother was born he was given a booster injection against Rubella when he was about 2 years old.
My brother has been diagnosed with Autism , or as it is more properly classified as Asperger's Spectrum disorder.
With only this one case it is impossible to say with 100% certainty that the Rubella vaccine was the cause of my brothers Autism . But you would have to have a pretty closed mind not to see the link.
I am convinced as is the rest of my family that there is a definite link between the Rubella part of the MMR vaccine and autism.
The doctors in this case are not quacks or making up a story.
The general consensus of opinion within the medical community is of course that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the negative aspects on a purely large scale .
The risk of Contracting the illness for a child is worse than the risk of autism, where a genetic propensity also comes into play therefore the risk is less defined.
Could all the experts out there who do the risk assessments tell this to my poor brother.

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debbie key said on 02 February 2010

I will not be giving my 13 month old daughter the MMR,I am going to wait another yr and give her the single shots. My son is autistic and as any mother dsn't know how or why this happend but Im not going to take any chances. The article above may be true but can u imagen the pay out the goverment would have to pay if this Dr was right?? I've also decliend the swine flu jab for my children as I am now very sceptical about what this goverment says! and will follow my own judgment on what is the best for my children.

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Edited by NHS Choices