Appeal to parents over MMR jab after autism claims discredited

PARENTS are being urged to give their children the MMR vaccine after the doctor who claimed it could cause autism was found guilty of misconduct and the safety fears sparked by his study were dismissed as "unfounded".

Dr Andrew Wakefield was told by the General Medical Council (GMC) yesterday he had acted dishonestly and was misleading in the way he described his research, published in 1998.

Twelve organisations, including the Medical Research Council, the British Medical Association and Faculty of Public Health, released a joint statement re-affirming their commitment to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab.

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Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary Norman Lamb said Dr Wakefield's claims were "deeply damaging".

"The dramatic decline in take-up of the MMR vaccine resulting from unfounded fears generated by Dr Wakefield have set back this key health initiative in the most serious way.

"The critical thing now is to re-build public confidence and finally lay to rest the suggestion that children's health is at risk from this vaccine."

The GMC said Dr Wakefield "showed a callous disregard" for the suffering of children and brought the medical profession into disrepute after he took blood samples from children at his son's birthday party in return for payments of 5.

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It also ruled Dr Wakefield submitted an application for funding from the Legal Aid Board but failed to disclose that some of the costs would have been met by the NHS anyway.

Dr Wakefield, whose contract prevented him from carrying out clinical research on young people, was also found to have not acted in the best clinical interests of the children in his study.

The hearing heard that he ordered some to undergo unnecessary colonoscopies, barium meals, blood and urine tests and brain scans.

The GMC said the children did not meet the criteria for inclusion in the research and the doctors did not have ethical approval to investigate them.

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He now faces being struck off the medical register if found guilty of serious professional misconduct. A final verdict and a decision on sanctions is expected in the summer.

But Dr Wakefield's supporters remain defiant. Around 30, many waving placards, protested at the GMC in central London and branded the hearing a "witch hunt". One protester who heckled the panel chairman as he delivered the verdicts accused it of a "set-up".

Teacher Grace Filby, 57, said the rulings were "disgraceful" and added: "He is doing pioneering work and putting the rest of the doctors to shame."

Wendy Sutterthwaite, 60, a former NHS nurse, said: "These doctors are pioneers – very brave, very intelligent with a high level of integrity. The Government should be ashamed."

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Dr Wakefield was an honorary consultant in experimental gastroenterology at the Royal Free Hospital in London at the time of his research.

He and two colleagues involved in the research, professors John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch, who are also being investigated by the GMC, deny all charges against them.

A charity which supports MMR warned there could be a new outbreak of rubella if uptake of the vaccine falls. The disease can cause babies to be born deaf and blind if their mothers are exposed to it during pregnancy.

The information and research director for Sense, the national deaf-blind and rubella association, Joff McGill, said: "We need to get the message to all parents that to protect your children and others against rubella, it is critical we stop the disease circulating."

Dr Wakefield and Profs Walker-Smith and Murch will now be the subject of further investigation.

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