Anti-MMR doctor is forced out
By Lorraine Fraser, Medical Correspondent
THE specialist who first raised concerns about the safety of MMR vaccinations has been forced out of his job, The Telegraph can reveal.
Andrew Wakefield, a consultant gastroenterologist whose research has linked the vaccine to autism and bowel disease in children, said last night that he had been asked to resign because of his work.
"I have been asked to go because my research results are unpopular," said Dr Wakefield, an academic at the Royal Free Hospital Medical School in London whose research into the triple measles, mumps and rubella vaccination has caused controversy.
"I did not wish to leave but I have agreed to stand down in the hope that my going will take the political pressure off my colleagues and allow them to get on with the job of looking after the many sick children we have seen.
"They have not sacked me. They cannot; I have not done anything wrong. I have no intention of stopping my investigations."
He has been testing the theory that measles virus from MMR vaccine can colonise the bowel of susceptible children, producing inflammatory bowel disease, which then, via a disruption of the chemical balance in the body and the brain, leads to autism.
Although the specialist admits he has not published proof, he has infuriated ministers by suggesting that the three component vaccines should be given separately.
Dr Wakefield's departure comes a month after he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists in recognition of his research work.
He left his £50,000 job on Friday after 14 years having been told that his ideas were "unwelcome" at University College London, which controls the Royal Free.
The news will please vaccination programme officials in the Public Health Laboratory Service. They have ridiculed his research and still insist that MMR, recommended officially for every child at around 13 months and again at four years, is safe.
He added last night: "I am very concerned that I have been unable to gain any guarantee from the hospital that the children we have already seen, and who need to be seen, will be looked after".
Parents of autistic children involved in his research expressed their anger last night. Some demanded reassurances that the Royal Free Hospital will continue treating their children.
Dr Wakefield's research has made him a pariah of the medical establishment. As a result, the World Health Organisation felt obliged to announce its support of the MMR vaccine.
The Government has played down concerns since he published a paper in The Lancet in 1998, reporting that he and colleagues had identified a hitherto unknown combination of bowel damage and autism in children whose parents said their previously normal children fell ill after MMR.
The row became a crisis last January when Dr Wakefield told The Telegraph that he had seen almost 170 children with a similar story and claimed that the Department of Health's contention that MMR had been proven to be safe did not "hold up".
That number, has now reached almost 200. Pressure on the children's gastroenterology unit is so great that it's waiting list risks breaking the NHS's 18-month limit. Parents have appealed to Tony Blair to give it more funds.
The Royal Free Hospital Medical School was unavailable for comment last night.