updated 1/18/2011 6:35:41 PM ET 2011-01-18T23:35:41

British medical officials failed to investigate allegations made by a U.K. doctor who linked autism to a childhood vaccine, a new article says.

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In 1998, the journal Lancet published a study by Andrew Wakefield and others, suggesting a connection between the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella and autism. Alarmed parents abandoned the vaccine in droves worldwide and measles surged in the U.K. and elsewhere.

In 2004, 10 of the study's 13 co-authors rejected its conclusions and the study was retracted last year. Wakefield was banned from practicing medicine in Britain and no large studies have confirmed his findings.

In an article published Tuesday in the medical journal BMJ, journalist Brian Deer said he presented Lancet in 2004 with claims that Wakefield's research was unethical and fraudulent. Deer said Lancet responded by publishing a denial and said an investigation conducted by the government-run hospital involved in the research cleared Wakefield of any wrongdoing.

According to documents Deer obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, no independent investigation ever took place.

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In response to Deer's charges, the Lancet published a partial retraction of the research and emphasized the importance of vaccination.

"At no point did we actively defend Wakefield's public statements about the link between (the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine) and autism," the journal said.

Unlike in the U.S., where publicly funded research is heavily scrutinized, there is no mandatory oversight in Britain. The charges against Wakefield were only proven last year by the U.K.'s ruling medical body.

"We are only now beginning to understand the root causes of the multiple system failures involved in the Wakefield incident," wrote Douglas J. Opel of the Seattle Children's Research Institute and colleagues in an accompanying commentary. "The conventional biomedical research mechanisms intended to assure research integrity completely failed."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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