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MMR study called 'poor science'

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LONDON, England (Reuters) -- England's chief medical officer has attacked a doctor for a study on the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, saying it was "poor science" and caused a "completely false loss of confidence" by linking it to autism.

Liam Donaldson told BBC radio on Monday the study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield was now largely discredited after the editor of the Lancet medical journal, which originally published the study, admitted it had found a "fatal conflict of interest" with Wakefield.

The Lancet's editor said he wished he had never published the study after it emerged that Wakefield had not disclosed he was also carrying out a study for the Legal Aid Board on behalf of parents who believed the vaccine had harmed their children.

"It's a quite unprecedented step for the editor of a major international journal like the Lancet to say that had he known then what he knows now, he would never have published the paper," Donaldson said.

"We have always thought that Dr. Wakefield's original study was poor science ... (and) independent experts and independent medical bodies around the world have criticized it."

In the wake of the Lancet's revelation, Britain's Health Secretary John Reid has called on the doctors' watchdog the General Medical Council (GMC) to mount an inquiry into Wakefield's conduct "as a matter of urgency."

Wakefield himself continues to stand by his research and has welcomed suggestions that the GMC is to investigate.

Wakefield's study, originally published in 1998, sparked widespread fears about the triple vaccine, which has been used in Britain since 1988 and in the United States for more than 30 years.

The fears led to a marked drop in the number of British children being vaccinated and has been blamed for outbreaks of measles in various parts of the country.

Donaldson said the "seed of doubt" sown by the Wakefield study had "caused a completely false loss of confidence in a vaccine that has saved millions of children's lives around the world."

But Jackie Fletcher, founder of the JABS support group for vaccine-damaged children, noted that the original data in Wakefield's study are not in question and said the government and medical authorities were engaged in a "witchhunt" against the doctor.

"We have to remember ... that the actual data in that study was not flawed, they are not suggesting that it is flawed -- and that is the important thing because that data has come from parents," she told Reuters.

She also said Wakefield's findings had been replicated by other studies in the United States, Japan and Ireland.

Around 80 percent of children have the MMR vaccine in Britain -- a level that is well below what medical authorities say is necessary to protect against a measles epidemic. Last year, 308 cases of measles were reported in Britain.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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