The doctor who first suggested a link between the MMR vaccine and autism is due to face charges of serious professional misconduct
If found guilty, Dr Andrew Wakefield, who is charged along with two colleagues, could be struck off.
The case centres on research, based on a study of 12 children and carried out by Dr Wakefield and colleagues (Professor John Walker-Smith and Professor Simon Murch), which raised doubts about the safety of the triple vaccine. The suggestion of the 1998 research paper – published in The Lancet – was that MMR was linked not only to autism but also to the bowel disorder Crohn’s disease. It led to falling numbers of parents immunising their children and a row over whether the then prime minister, Tony Blair, had vaccinated his son Leo.
But the medical establishment has repeatedly argued that the triple vaccine – which protects against measles, mumps and rubella – is perfectly safe.
And a host of major studies has since failed to find any evidence of a link between MMR and autism. The General Medical Council disciplinary panel will examine whether the doctors failed to get proper ethical approval for their research and then carried out procedures on children that had not been sanctioned by the ethics committee.
In a statement Dr Wakefield’s solicitor said: “Dr Wakefield continues to vigorously deny any allegation of wrongdoing.”
The Lancet has disowned Dr Wakefield’s 1998 paper, the editor admitting he would not have published it if he had known about what he called a “fatal conflict of interest”.
Dr Philip Minor, of the National Institutes of Biological Standards and Control, said: “The MMR vaccine is one of the safest, best studied vaccines, and yet vaccination rates are still not as high as they were before Dr Wakefield sparked this controversy.