Has the MMR link to autism been disproved?

Latest research has disproved the link between the MMR vaccine and autism in children, according to media reports.

UK researchers, funded by the DoH, analysed blood samples from 250 children and concluded that the vaccine could not be responsible for the development of autism.

No difference was found between the way in which autistic children and healthy children react to the MMR jab.

Uptake of MMR jabs plummeted in the late 1990s following the publication of a study led by Dr Andrew Wakefield, which linked the vaccine to bowel disorders and autism.

Since then, several studies have shown that there is no link between MMR and autism.

Latest Health Protection Agency (HPA) figures have shown that uptake of the jab is slowly rising again, with 85 per cent of two-year-olds receiving an MMR jab in 2006/7.

What is the research?
The reports are based on a UK case-controlled study to test the theory that the MMR vaccine may trigger autism by raising levels of antibodies to measles or causing enterocolitis.

Research involved blood samples being taken from 240 children, aged between 10 and 12, born in the South Thames area.

Nighty-eight children had an autism spectrum disorder, and, for comparison, 52 children with other special educational needs and 90 children who were developing normally, were included in the study.

All of the children had been vaccinated against MMR, but not all of them had been given both doses of the jab.

In the cohort, children were less likely to receive the second MMR jab after diagnosis with a developmental problem.

Blood samples were taken from each child to check for the presence of measles virus and measles antibodies.

However, no difference in the levels of measles virus or antibodies was found between autistic children and controls.

This was the same regardless of whether or not the child had received both doses of MMR or had displayed signs of regression after vaccination.

Parents also completed a questionnaire on any symptoms of digestive system problems their child may have suffered in the previous three months or before they were given the MMR vaccine.

No evidence of enterocolitis was found among the autistic children.

In fact, the only child with symptoms of enterocolitis did not have an autistic spectrum disorder and had not displayed regression after receiving the vaccine.

What do the researchers say?
Lead researcher Dr David Brown, from the department of infections and viruses at the HPA, said: 'The study found no evidence linking MMR to autistic spectrum disorder and the paper adds to the overwhelming body of evidence from around the world supporting the use of MMR.

'Public confidence in the MMR vaccine continues to remain high as the uptake for those receiving their first dose has stayed stable.'

However, it is also important to remember that children should complete their full course of MMR vaccine for optimum protection, he added.

In a statement DoH director of immunisation Dr David Salisbury said: 'It is natural for parents to worry about the health and well being of their children and I hope that this study will reassure them that there is no evidence linking the MMR vaccine to autism.'

What do other researchers say?
East Sussex GP Dr Anthony Bradbury, who has an interest in MMR, said: 'Findings of the study back up what the majority of GPs have been saying all along: MMR jabs do not cause autism nor do they cause Crohn's disease.

'We have seen a gradual increase in the number of parents bringing their children forward for the jab, and this study will help increase that number even more,' he added.


Arch Dis Child Online 2008

Informing patients

  • MMR jabs do not appear to cause autism in children.
  • Autism is not associated with increased levels of measles virus and measles antibodies.
  • MMR jabs do not increase the risk of enterocolitis in children with autism.

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