Autism expert Andrew Wakefield, formerly an MD but lost his license, presumably for publishing an influential paper linking autism and vaccinations, in which the data seems to have been made up.
The autism scare behind the Wales outbreak tracks to the era of Dr. Wakefield, then a researcher at London's Royal Free Hospital, whose suggestion of a vaccine-autism link began to get press in 1997.
A paper Dr. Wakefield published in 1998 in the Lancet, a medical journal, described 12 "previously normal" children who developed gastrointestinal problems and developmental disorders including autism. His paper concluded that "in most cases, onset of symptoms was after measles, mumps, and rubella immunization. Further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome and its possible relation to this vaccine."
Medical experts immediately warned parents that they considered the research incomplete and speculative, and said there was no evidence of a link. Among other studies debunking his research, a 2004 review of epidemiological studies by the U.S. Institute of Medicine found no evidence MMR caused autism.
The Lancet retracted Dr. Wakefield's paper in 2010 after the U.K.'s General Medical Council concluded that his work was "irresponsible and dishonest." The council that year stripped him of his medical license, saying in a report that he had engaged in "serious professional misconduct."
U.S. critics, including some who questioned vaccines in general, continued to campaign against the vaccine. Among them, former Playboy model and actress Jenny McCarthy, who has been named a co-host of ABC's "The View," became a leader of the anti-vaccine movement in the U.S. several years ago when in televised interviews she linked her son's autism to vaccinations. A publicist for Ms. McCarthy, who wrote the forward to a 2010 book by Dr. Wakefield, didn't respond to requests for comment.
Dr. Wakefield's work especially reverberated in the U.K. MMR vaccination rates among 2-year-olds in England fell to 80% in the 2004 fiscal year from about 92% in 1997.
Autism expert Jenny McCarthy
From January 5, 2011:
(CNN) -- A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an "elaborate fraud" that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday.
An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study's author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study -- and that there was "no doubt" Wakefield was responsible.
"It's one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors," Fiona Godlee, BMJ's editor-in-chief, told CNN. "But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data."
Britain stripped Wakefield of his medical license in May. "Meanwhile, the damage to public health continues, fueled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals and the medical profession," BMJ states in an editorial accompanying the work.