Wakefield “erased”

Dr Andrew Wakefield, the researcher at the centre of the 1998 Lancet paper which outlined a supposed link between the childhood MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine and autism, has been found guilty of “serious professional misconduct” and his name will be “erased” from the UK medical register, pending any appeal.

The UK General Medical Council, which made the recent decision, had earlier this year found Wakefield to be “dishonest”, “irresponsible” and guilty of putting children through painful and unnecessary tests, following the lengthiest such case in its history.

Wakefield’s original paper, as published in The Lancet, had 12 co-authors, 10 of whom later disassociated themselves from the paper’s conclusions. On January 2, The Lancet itself issued a full retraction of the paper, stating that

“It has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect. … Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.”

Wakefield’s findings were picked up by anti-vaccination groups as evidence of the dangers of vaccination. That this research was not duplicated by others, and that the co-authors disassociated themselves from it, seemed to be of no consideration to the movement – the anti-vaxers’ case, as far as they were concerned, was proved; end of story.

The upshot of the release of Wakefield’s paper was a great deal of media coverage outlining the supposed dangers of MMR vaccine leading to autism in patients. What has been described as “panic” ensued, with vaccination rates immediately dropping in the UK. This lead to an increase in diseases that the MMR vaccination was designed to prevent. Vaccination rates have apparently still not fully recovered to the levels before the scare.

But with the GMC’s findings against Wakefield’s dishonest and irresponsible practices, the anti-vaccination movement has taken a heavy blow, as his ‘research’ had been the foundation of much of its specious argument. No doubt, however, they will continue to see him as a victim of a conspiracy and a martyr to the cause, completely ignoring the evidence against him.

The GMC also investigated two other medical professionals who were involved in one way or another with Wakefield’s research. Prof John Walker-Smith, who was a co-author of the Lancet paper and involved in the research practices, was found to have made “serious and repeated departures from good medical practice”. He will also be “erased” from the medical register, pending any appeal. Prof Simon Murch, another co-author, was found to have “acted in good faith albeit … he was in error”, and therefore the GMC has not sanctioned him and decided he is free to continue unrestricted medical practice.

Read the full statement from the GMC regarding Wakefield here.