If you’re a parent who has concerns regarding your child’s immunizations, then this may of interest to you. A recent article in Time Magazine has revealed that Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who was responsible the enormous controversy that linked autism to vaccinations, has not only been discredited, but his original study has been retracted by the journal, The Lancet, which declared that it should never have been published in the first place. He may even be forced to give up his license to practice medicine.

A review of Wakefield’s’ tactics has determined that in arriving at his controversial findings, not only did he act unethically, but he was deemed dishonest and irresponsible and conducted his research with a “callous disregard” for the subjects in his research, who happened to be young children.

In the paper in question, published in 1998, Wakefield announced that he had found a relationship between the use of a common childhood vaccination (measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR) and the onset of autism and bowel problems in children. In the wake of his so-called findings, there ensued a public health maelstrom fueled by Wakefield’s calling for parents to stop immunizing their kids.

As a result, due in large part to the media frenzy that ensued (MMR was in fact the most written about science topic in the U.K. in 2002), vaccination rates plummeted, dropping in certain places from 90% to below 70% in less than ten years. Along with this decline, Britain experienced a commensurate increase in measles, a disease all but eradicated in much of the developed world, going from just 56 cases in 1998 to over 1300 cases by 2008.

All of this happened despite the fact that not only were Wakefield’s findings repeatedly discredited, but 10 of the 13 authors on the original paper renounced the findings. The most recent scrutiny has stemmed from an investigation by the General Medical Council, which oversees and regulates doctors in Britain. In investigating Wakefield’s methods, they found numerous examples of acting against the best interest of the children, including colonoscopies and spinal taps without considering the potential harmful consequences of such invasive techniques on children, as well as paying his subjects to give blood while attending his son’s birthday party.

And in what might be construed as a conflict of interest, Wakefield failed to reveal the fact that while he was carrying out his research, he was being paid by lawyers representing parents who were involved in lawsuits against MMR vaccine manufacturers. Furthermore, Wakefield had patent rights to an alternative measles vaccine that would have benefited from the discontinued use of the current version.

Interestingly enough, even though the editors of the Lancet consider the current revelations to be a “damning indictment of Andrew Wakefield and his research,” support for him remains strong, especially in this country, where he heads the autism center Thoughtful House in Texas that receives millions of dollar in donations every year. In fact, some groups believe that retraction will only strengthen how certain people view him.

Some of this support stems from the fact that autism rates continue to rise in this country by an estimated 10-17% each year, a fact that the scientific community is at a loss to explain, though some attribute it to greater awareness and more effective diagnosis.

Autism is a complex developmental disorder that generally appears within the first three years of life and can affect a person’s ability to communicate and interact with other people. Autism occurs in varying degrees that fall within a range known as autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which include Asperger syndrome.

According to the most recent statistics, autism affects 1 in 110 children and 1 in 70 boys, making it more common than cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. It has been estimated that nearly 1.5 million Americans have some degree of autism.

The exact causes of autism are still largely unknown, though experts believe that it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Children do not outgrow autism, but through early detection and proper intervention, many people can experience dramatically improved outcomes.

If you suspect your child has autism, consult with your pediatrician. For more information, visit the websites for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Autism Society.