Andrew Wakefield began his career in the 1980s as a gastric surgeon from Bath, England, who followed his parents, a neurologist and general practitioner, into the field.
Now he is one of the most vilified, and perhaps most influential, doctors in the world.
Wakefield published a blockbuster report in The Lancet in 1998 claiming evidence of a link between autism and early-childhood vaccination. The findings sparked a worldwide debate over the safety of inoculating children against diseases like the measles and inspired a health scare that persists to this day — including among medical professionals.
Just as recently as last week, a doctor at a panel event in Lake Delton, Wisconsin advised parents there against vaccinating their children.
“I think there is a direct link between autism and vaccines,” said the doctor, Mayer Eisenstein, who has been sued by parents claiming his policies harmed their children. “The bottom line is all vaccines cause neurological damage.”
The source of that information, Wakefield’s study, has since been disproved by the wider medical community. Wakefield, too, has been discredited.
And now he has been banned.
On Monday Britain’s medical council stripped Wakefield of his license, saying he had “abused his position of trust” and “brought the medical profession into disrepute,” according to The Telegraph. The council called Wakefield “dishonest,” “misleading,” and “irresponsible.”
The move came just as yet another study, this time in the journal Pediatrics, found no evidence to support the claim that immunization affects a child’s development. Where Wakefield’s study examined just 12 children, the report in Pediatrics followed more than 1,000 children who had received the recommended vaccinations on time, received them late or never received them at all.
The authors found no discernable difference between children who received vaccinations and those who did not. In a forward to their report, they wrote that their findings “should be comforting to many parents with vaccine safety concerns: Children can receive their immunizations on time and expect to have the same neurodevelopmental outcomes as children with any other pattern of vaccine receipt.”
And yet, Wakefield has promised to continue his advocacy in exile. The ruling by the British government will only impact his ability to practice medicine in the United Kingdom. And his work has been endorsed by several celebrities, including Jenny McCarthy, whose son has been diagnosed with autism, and her partner, Jim Carrey.
As Wakefield told the TODAY show on Monday, “This is a little bump on the road.”