WEDNESDAY, Jan. 5 (HealthDay News) -- An in-depth investigation just published in a prominent medical journal alleges that a decade-long effort to link childhood vaccinations with autism was really an elaborate hoax perpetuated by a British doctor who has since been banned from practicing medicine in that country.
The doctor's original research, first published in 1998, turned many parents away from immunizing their children, which some experts now link to recent outbreaks of illnesses that had once been well under control.
"The MMR [measles-mumps-rubella vaccine] scare was based not on bad science but on a deliberate fraud," Dr. Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the BMJ, which published details of the new investigation on Jan. 5, said in a statement. "Such clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare."
The story began with the publication in 1998 of a study led by Dr. Andrew Wakefield. Appearing in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, the report connected the MMR vaccine to autism and stomach problems in 12 children, a supposed new bowel-brain "syndrome."
That set off a worldwide furor, with many researchers condemning the finding as shoddy science. But parents of children with autism rallied around the main researcher. The result: immunization rates in both the United States and Britain fell while the number of new cases of measles -- one of the infections the MMR shot is designed to thwart -- climbed.
After closely re-examining the data, The Lancet issued a formal retraction of Wakefield's research last year. In May of 2010, Britain's General Medical Council barred Wakefield from practicing in the United Kingdom.
According to the new BMJ report, Wakefield -- a gastroenterologist, not a pediatrician or neurologist -- identified the new "syndrome" before he even
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