The British Medical Journal is calling for a Parliamentary investigation into research conducted by Dr Andrew Wakefield at University College London which claimed autism and bowel disease could result from children having the MMR vaccine.

Editor-in-chief Dr Fiona Godlee described Dr Wakefield's work in 1998 as an "elaborate fraud" which lead to a significant decline in vaccinations levels and the re-emergence of measles as an endemic disease in the UK.

According to Dr Godlee: "Continuing failure to get to the bottom of the vaccine scandal raises serious questions about the prevailing culture of our academic institutions and attitudes to the integrity of their output.

"This is not a call to debate whether MMR causes autism. Science has asked that question and answered it. We need to know what happened in this inglorious chapter in medicine. Who did what, and why?"

A UCL spokesperson has since said they are conducting a review into "alleged research misconduct", but it comes at a time when incidences of American parents sending children "pox packages" containing chickenpox infected lollipops are at an all-time high.

Doctors have cautioned that licking an infected lollipop is unlikely to pass on chickenpox, as it's an airborne virus, but could expose a child to other, more serious ailments.

The concept of getting children to catch the illness on purpose to avoid them catching the more serious strain as an adult has long existed in the US, with so-called "Pox Parties" held in many states.

Dr William Shaffner of Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine blames Dr Wakefield's research for undermining public confidence in vaccinations on both sides of the Atlantic.

"It is impossible to unring a bell," he said. "There are still many people who believe that vaccines and, in particular, the measles vaccine, is linked to autism.

"The whole controversy fuelled a general scepticism about vaccination and a belief that the 'the natural way is the best way'."

Cases of childhood measules and chickenpox continue to rise with US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention saying they tripled last year and there were over 30,000 cases and nine deaths in Europe in the first seven months of 2011.

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The full BMJ editorial is available at www.bmj.com and get further details on measles, chickenpox and other childhood diseases here.

Posted on November 11 2011 at 1630 by richard.hook@pavpub.com