Autism Doctor Loses His Medical License; Now Let's Talk About How False Vaccine Beliefs Hurt Kids

Last Updated May 24, 2010 12:45 PM EDT

It's good that Andrew Wakefield, the author of a discredited "study" in The Lancet of just 12 children that alleged a connection between vaccines and autism, has been banned from practicing medicine in the U.K. Now we can all stop calling him a "doctor" and start a debate about whether he's actually a child abuser.

Sounds extreme? I beg that you read the General Medical Council's ruling, which describes how Wakefield conducted his studies. He performed clinical investigations on children even though he had no pediatric experience and it was a stipulation of his job that he not practice on kids. The research was performed without ethical oversight.

Under those conditions, Wakefield should never have been allowed to do what he did, which was to schedule colonoscopies for five children while defrauding a group of lawyers who thought they were paying for the tests:

In February 1996 Dr Wakefield agreed to act as an expert in respect of MMR litigation. In relation to the Legal Aid Board (LAB), the Panel found that Dr Wakefield accepted monies totalling £50,000 procured through Mr Barr, the Claimants' solicitor to pursue research. ...
The costing proposal set out costs in respect of the investigation of five children. It covered each child's four-night stay in hospital with colonoscopy, MRI and evoked potential studies. Dr Wakefield admitted that the funding subsequently provided by the Legal Aid Board had not been needed for these items because these costs were borne by the National Health Service as the patients were being admitted as NHS patients.

The Panel found that Dr Wakefield had a duty to disclose this information to the Legal Aid Board via Mr Barr. It was dishonest and misleading of him not to have done so. The Panel concluded that his intention to mislead the Legal Aid Board was sufficient on its own to amount to serious professional misconduct.

The Panel also found that in respect of £25,000 of LAB monies, Dr Wakefield caused or permitted it to be used for purposes other than those for which he said it was needed and for which it had been granted. In doing so he was in breach of his duties in relation to the managing of, and accounting for, funds.

Also consider the damage Wakefield has caused to thousands of children he's never met. Because his Lancet study gave credibility to the false belief that vaccines cause autism, millions of people now wrongly believe that it is safer to not get their children vaccinated. This year alone, about 400 children in Portsmouth, England, have missed their vaccination schedules, leaving them vulnerable to brain infections, deafness and infertility -- diseases that were essentially eradicated from modern life before Wakefield appeared on the scene.

As I've noted before, false beliefs about vaccines are extremely deep-rooted, and even people who believe in inoculation feel that jabs should be spaced over a wider period of time rather than given in quick succession at the earliest possible age. It's therefore a shame that the only bad thing about Wakefield being struck off is that the news will overshadow something much more important: A new study in Pediatrics that shows there are no adverse health effects of delivering vaccines in the first year of life compared to waiting.

And Wakefield is determined to overshadow that news: Here he is with Matt Lauer on The Today Show promoting his new book.