Does the MMR vaccine cause autism?
The question of safety is the main vaccine concern. Are vaccines safe? If I vaccinate my child, will that have negative effects for their health? Of course, these questions are extremely broad to be answered all at once. Thus I will be breaking the answers in little bits. Today we will look at the MMR (Measles, Mumps & Rubella) vaccine and autism. Is the MMR vaccine correlated with autism? A quick PubMed search found this study from the June 12, 1999 Lancet (the same journal that originally published and recently retracted the Wakefield study that is widely credited with starting the MMR/vaccine hysteria):
Taylor B, Miller E, Farrington CP, Petropoulos MC, Favot-Mayaud I, Li J, Waight PA.
Department of Community Child Health, Royal Free and University College Medical School, University College London, UK
Study Summary: The authors looked at data about autism diagnoses since 1979 and data about MMR vaccinations, which started in 1988 in the UK, to try to see if there is any increase in autism diagnoses in or around the time when the MMR vaccine was introduced. They found that autism rates were steadily increasing every year and no “step-up” in autism diagnoses occurred when the vaccine was introduced, thus lending credibility to the conclusion that MMR does not seem to increase autism rates.
There was a steady increase in cases by year of birth with no sudden “step-up” or change in the trend line after the introduction of MMR vaccination. There was no difference in age at diagnosis between the cases vaccinated before or after 18 months of age and those never vaccinated. There was no temporal association between onset of autism within 1 or 2 years after vaccination with MMR (relative incidence compared with control period 0.94 [95% CI 0.60-1.47] and 1.09 [0.79-1.52]). Developmental regression was not clustered in the months after vaccination (relative incidence within 2 months and 4 months after MMR vaccination 0.92 [0.38-2.21] and 1.00 [0.52-1.95]). No significant temporal clustering for age at onset of parental concern was seen for cases of core autism or atypical autism with the exception of a single interval within 6 months of MMR vaccination. This appeared to be an artifact related to the difficulty of defining precisely the onset of symptoms in this disorder. INTERPRETATION: Our analyses do not support a causal association between MMR vaccine and autism. If such an association occurs, it is so rare that it could not be identified in this large regional sample.
Now, let us keep in mind that, one study never proves anything. At best one study points to a possible direction, no matter how well done, and how rock solid that one study may appear. What matters is the literature as a whole; what do all the studies done on the topic suggest. As such, given that this is the first study about vaccines & autism we’ve reviewed here, let us not interpret this as proof that the MMR vaccine is not correlated to autism. Only when we have found more studies, and only when all the studies appear to reach the same conclusion can we say with any level of certainty that it appears highly unlikely that the MMR vaccines causes an increase in autism levels.