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Wakefield was stripped of his right to practice medicine in the UK last year

A British publication has reported that a controversial study linking a childhood vaccine to autism was fraudulent, being based on misinformation on the sample of children examined.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) said on Wednesday that in a 1998 paper by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and colleagues committed an "elaborate fraud" by faking data linking the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shot to autism.

The allegations are denied by the disgraced British doctor, who claims the findings have been replicated in five countries.

'Smear campaign'

Andrew Wakefield said that the BMJ report was a smear campaign by powerful pharmaceutical companies, in an interview late on Wednesday with CNN.

Fact File

 

  Wakefield's original paper published in 1998
  Paper reported link between MMR inoculation and "new syndrome" enterocolitis and regressive autism
  Of the nine children said to have regressive autism in paper only one truly did
  Paper said all 12 of child patients were "previously normal" but five had documented problems
 

Patients were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners

  BMJ says study was commissioned and funded for planned litigation

"It's a ruthless pragmatic attempt to crush any investigation into valid vaccine safety concerns," Wakefield said.

He said that pharmaceutical companies were undertaking the campaign because "they are very, very concerned about the adverse reactions to vaccines that are occurring in children."

Wakefield defined "they" as the journalist who completed the investigation supported by "the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries, which is funded directly and exclusively by the pharmaceutical industry".

The 1998 study convinced thousands of parents that vaccines are dangerous and led them to skip the doses. Immunisation rates have never climbed back to their rate before Wakefield's research.

It is blamed for ongoing outbreaks of measles and mumps.

The conclusions of the paper by Wakefield and his colleagues was renounced by 10 of its 13 authors and later retracted by the medical journal Lancet, where it was originally published.

The BMJ's investigation was carried out by British journalist Brian Deer.

Deer found that of the 12 children studied by Wakefield, and claimed in his paper to be normal until they had the MMR vaccines, five have previously documented developmental problems.

Methodology examined

Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan, in London, said: "Many hundreds of thousands of parents played safe and decided against the MMR triple jab and went instead for three separate jabs instead, against the advice of the UK department of health. 

"And that advice was proven to be right.

"Hundreds of thousands of children in the UK are unprotected against measles, mumps and rubella, and for the first time in 14 years, measles, which is a killer, is being described as endemic.

"So there are ongoing damages due to Andrew Wakefield’s now totally discredited findings."

Brennan said that the study published in the BMJ examined the methodology of Wakefield's paper.

He said that it found many problems - some diagnosis and dates were faked. Additionally Wakefield had been controversially paid hundreds of thousands of dollars through a law firm under plans to launch a class action litigation against those behind the MMR vaccine.

"The medical writers at the BMJ are saying this wasn't just bad science but something Wakefield set out deliberately and effectively with malice and forethought to defraud," Brennan added.

Other published studies have stated that there is no link between the MMR vaccination and autism.

Wakefield's right to practice medicine in the UK was stripped from him in May 2010.

But measles has surged since Wakefield's paper was published and there are sporadic outbreaks in Europe and the US. In 2008, measles was deemed endemic in England and Wales.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies