No link between autism and MMR vaccine, major new study confirms

Anti-vaxxers have been blamed for global surge in measles cases

(Image credit: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images)

Scientists have confirmed that there is no link between autism and the MMR vaccine, in the largest ever study of its kind.

The researchers, from Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen, looked at every child born in Denmark to Danish-born mothers between 1999 and 2000.

The 657,461 children were tracked from the age of one until 2013, during which period more than 95% of the children received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and 6,517 were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, CNN reports.

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After factoring in known risk factors including age of the parents, diagnosis of autism in a sibling, preterm birth and low weight at birth, the researchers concluded that the MMR vaccine did not increase the risk of autism in children who were not considered at risk for the disorder, and did not trigger it in those who were.

In fact, although no causal link was established by the study - outlined in a paper in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine - the scientists found that children who had been given the MMR vaccination were 7% less likely to be diagnosed with autism than those who did not get the jab, The Daily Telegraph reports.

“The study strongly supports that MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism, does not trigger autism in susceptible children, and is not associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination,” the study says. “We believe our results offer reassurance and provide reliable data.”

The new study further disproves the controversial findings of gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield, who hypothesised in a 1998 paper that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism. “Symptoms of the condition often begin to manifest at about the time the jab is given, between 12 and 15 months old”, leading some parents to conclude that his theory might be correct, says The Guardian.

In the ensuing scare, “one in five children missed out on the vaccination”, adds the Telegraph. Wakefield’s paper was later withdrawn and in 2010 he was struck off the medical register.

The new Danish study has been welcomed by Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who said it backs up the findings of previous research.

“At this point, you’ve had 17 previous studies done in seven countries, three different continents, involving hundreds of thousands of children,” Offit said. “I think it’s fair to say a truth has emerged.”

Nevertheless, the number of children in the UK having MMR vaccinations has been “falling for years”, the Daily Mail reports. And recent analysis from Unicef shows that measles cases increased by 48.4% worldwide between 2017 and 2018.

Just ten countries, including Brazil, the Philippines and France, accounted for “nearly three-quarters of the total increase in measles cases in 2018”, notes CNN.

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