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MMR vaccine doctor to face UK GMC hearing

The doctor at the heart of the MMR vaccine autism scare faces a 15-week hearing over charges of professional misconduct and unethical behaviour

Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who said that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism, faces a 15-week hearing beginning 16 July into charges of professional misconduct.

The General Medical Council (GMC) hearing will examine Wakefield's ethical behaviour leading up to research published in the Lancet medical journal in 1998 in which he and colleagues reported a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

The research claims have caused worldwide debate which resulted in a decline in MMR vaccinations which UK health experts say has not yet recovered to the level seen before Wakefield's study. Conflicting scientific data suggest that vaccines are not linked to autism in any way.

The council will not look into the scientific claims, but will decide if Wakefield and colleagues John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch had violated a number of ethical practices during the study involving young children, such as failing to disclose financial interests in a vaccine firm.

In a statement, the GMC said: "The panel will inquire into allegations of serious professional misconduct by Dr Wakefield, Professor Walker-Smith and Professor Murch, in relation to the conduct of a research study involving young children from 1996-1998.î

The GMC regulates doctors in the UK and can prevent them from practising. It added that it would also investigate charges that Wakefield was involved in advising solicitors representing children claiming to have suffered damage from the MMR vaccine. Wakefield also faces charges that he acted unethically by conducting unethical bowel investigations and taking blood from children at a birthday party after offering them money and without ethical approval.

During the time of the study the three doctors were employed at the Royal Free Hospital in London. Wakefield now works in the US, where he said in an interview with the UK Observer newspaper that he would defend himself vigorously.

Wakefield said: "My concern is that it's biologically plausible that the MMR vaccine causes or contributes to the disease in many children, and that nothing in the science so far dissuades me from the continued need to pursue that question.î

Before Wakefield's study, more than 90 per cent of children in the UK received the MMR jab, according to government figures. After the autism warning, the figure fell to around 80 per cent before returning to 85 per cent in 2007.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) target is 95 per cent, a level that protects the wider population from potential outbreaks and epidemics.

18th July 2007

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