LONDON - The doctor whose research linking autism and the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella influenced millions of parents to refuse the shot for their children was banned Monday from practicing medicine in his native Britain.
Andrew Wakefield's 1998 study was discredited - but vaccination rates have never fully recovered and he continues to enjoy a vocal following, helped in the United States by endorsements from celebrities like actor Jim Carrey.
Wakefield was the first researcher to publish a peer-reviewed study suggesting a connection between autism and the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella. Legions of parents abandoned the vaccine, leading to a resurgence of measles in Western countries where it had been mostly stamped out. Outbreaks occur across Europe every year and sporadically in this country.
"That is Andrew Wakefield's legacy," said Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Pennsylvania. "The hospitalizations and deaths of children from measles who could have easily avoided the disease."
In Britain, Wakefield's research led to a huge decline in the number of children receiving the MMR vaccine: from 95 percent in 1995 - enough to prevent measles outbreaks - to 50 percent in parts of London in the early 2000s. Rates have begun to recover, though not enough to prevent outbreaks. In 2006, a 13-year-old boy became the first person to die from measles in Britain in 14 years.
"The false suggestion of a link between autism and the MMR vaccine has done untold damage to the U.K. vaccination program," said Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. "Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that it is safe."
On Monday, Britain's General Medical Council, which licenses and oversees doctors, found Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct and stripped him of the right to practice medicine in the United Kingdom. Wakefield said he planed to appeal the ruling, which takes effect within 28 days.
The council was acting on a finding in January that Wakefield and two other doctors showed a "callous disregard" for the children in their study, published in 1998 in the medical journal Lancet. The medical body said Wakefield took blood samples from children at his son's birthday party, paying them 5 pounds (about $7.20) each, and later joked about the incident.
The study has since been widely rejected. From 1998-2004, studies in many journals found no link between autism and the vaccine.