What is the Deal with Autism and the MMR Vaccine?

By Brian Sillanpaa, M.D.

person getting a shot from the doctor.

Search EBSCOhost for the measles vaccine and autism, and you will pull up hundreds of articles. Do a Google search, and you will get thousands of hits. Go and ask parents who have children who suffer from autism, and I guarantee the vast majority will state unequivocally that there is a link.

In fact, go ahead and ask Dr. Andrew Wakefield, and let me know how that goes.

You see, Dr. Wakefield is the guy who started this whole controversy. You might not know this, but it started in England in 1998.

In his report in “The Lancet,” a highly respected British medical journal, Dr. Wakefield and his 12 colleagues reported the presence of the measles virus RNA in bowel tissue in children with autism spectrum disorders. Suddenly, the news that “the measles vaccine causes autism” spread across the globe.

Re-read that again. Dr. Wakefield didn’t report that the measles vaccine causes autism in his research findings. He reported that some kids who had autism had the measles virus RNA in their bowel.

So, where did the outcry come from? Not from the reported data in his publication. In fact, Dr. Wakefield’s “research” consisted entirely of case studies for 12 children. Yes, you read that right – just 12 children.

In the words of Dr. Wakefield, “In eight children, the onset of behavioral problems had been linked, either by the parents or by the child’s physician, with MMR vaccination.”

That’s it! In legal terms we’d call that hearsay.

In medical terms, we’d say that was empirical evidence, at best.

Again, according to Dr. Wakefield, “We merely reported the parents description of what happened to their children and the clinical findings… we made no claims about the vaccine causing autism.” But that was then.

Since then, Dr. Wakefield – despite retracting the publication – continues to lead the bandwagon against the MMR vaccine. Despite his lack of evidence, he apparently still believes that autism can be caused by the MMR vaccine. He doesn’t have anything against the measles, mumps or rubella vaccines separately, just when given together.

But, is there evidence to back this up?

In short, the answer is a resounding NO.

In 1999, there was a study of 498 children; in 2002, another study of 535,544 children in Finland; and yet another of 537,303 children born in Denmark. ALL of these studies agreed that there was no link – at all – between autism and the MMR vaccine. Compare Dr. Wakefield’s eight of 12 children with the over 1 million children in just these studies alone, and it makes you wonder how this got so popular, doesn’t it?

But the “controversy” continues! Since Dr. Wakefield’s claims, there have literally been thousands of studies that dispute the link. Well, maybe they’re not credible? I say nay nay. These studies define credibility!

Researchers representing the University of Washington; Albert Einstein College of Medicine; University of Colorado Health Sciences Center; University of Rochester; University of Utah; University of Pittsburgh; the University of California – Davis, Los Angeles and Irvine; Boston University; Yale University; and the Autism and Communication Disorders Center at the University of Michigan, all said there is no link in 2006.

But apparently that wasn’t good enough to dispute eight parents. So, in 2008, scientists from Columbia University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Trinity College of Dublin and the American Academy of Pediatrics did another study and, surprise, there was absolutely no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Yet, here we are again. It’s 2016, and we had a measles outbreak last year in Disneyland. What’s the first thing that we hear? “It’s better to get the measles instead of the MMR vaccine unless you want to give your kid autism!”

Really?! This is the kind of thing that makes me go nuts. One study versus thousands; eight kids vs. millions; a retracted article versus some of the best research institutes in the world. It just goes to show – if there’s a conspiracy involved, facts don’t matter much.

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Hornig, M., Briese, T., Buie, T., Bauman, M. L., Lauwers, G., Siemetzki, U., & … Lipkin, W. I. (2008). Lack of Association between Measles Virus Vaccine and Autism with Enteropathy: A Case-Control Study. Plos ONE3(9), 1-8. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003140

Richler, J., Luyster, R., Risi, S., Wan-Ling, H., Dawson, G., Bernier, R., & … Lord, C. (2006). Is There a ‘Regressive Phenotype’ of Autism Spectrum Disorder Associated with the Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine? A CPEA Study. Journal Of Autism & Developmental Disorders36(3), 299-316. doi:10.1007/s10803-005-0070-1

ZIV, S. (2015). A DEADLY SHOT IN THE DARK. Newsweek Global, 164(7), 12-15.

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