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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Autism cases 'levelling off'
The researchers said there was no link between the MMR vaccine and autism
The controversial MMR vaccine has not triggered an increase in the number of children being diagnosed with autism, according to experts.

Researchers at University College London say figures actually show that the number of new cases has levelled off and may have peaked 11 years ago.

They also said that the rise in new cases throughout the 1980s and early 1990s may have been simply due to greater awareness of the condition.

Nevertheless, the study found that parents were now more likely to blame their children's autism on the MMR vaccine.

New cases

Professor Brent Taylor and colleagues at UCL identified 567 children born between 1979 and 1998 who were diagnosed with autism in north-east London.

They found that the number of children being diagnosed with autism peaked in 1992.

The appearance of autism appears to have stabilised
University College London researchers
They reported that the number of new cases levelled off between 1992 and 1996, with between 45 and 50 children being diagnosed with the condition.

This was equivalent to 2.6 cases for every 1,000 live births.

The researchers said that if autism was caused by the MMR vaccine then figures would have jumped sharply throughout the early 1990s. The MMR vaccine was introduced in Britain in 1988.

But writing in the journal Archives of Disease of Childhood, the researchers said: "The appearance of autism appears to have stabilised."

They researchers also dismissed claims that the vaccine can cause developmental or bowel problems in children.

"The claims that MMR vaccine is involved in the initiation of autism, and/or with regression, and/or with bowel problems associated with autism are not supported by any credible scientific evidence, while there is compelling and increasing evidence showing no association."

The researchers said controversial research published in 1997, which suggested a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, appeared to have influenced parents.

Before the study was published, just two out of 46 parents had suggested the vaccine had caused autism in their child.

However, afterwards it was cited in six out of 30 cases.

"Before August 1997, parents incriminated trigger factors such as domestic stress, seizures or viral illness.

"Post 1997, parents were more likely to attribute regression to vaccination, especially the MMR vaccine," the researchers said.

The UK's National Autistic Society welcomed the study.

Stuart Notholt, its director of policy, said it was difficult to get accurate figures on the incidence of autism.

"Data on the numbers affected by autistic spectrum disorders continue to be sparse and it has been difficult to compare current numbers with figures from earlier years," he said.

However, he said the number of new cases could be expected to level out if doctors were becoming more aware of the condition and if there was no external cause, such as a vaccine.

"It might be expected that with growing familiarity with autistic spectrum disorders, over a period of time, provided there were no external factors influencing onset, prevalence figures would begin to level out."

Has your opinion of the MMR vaccine changed? Send us your experiences and views on this story. A selection will be published below.

Click here to send your comments

Regardless of the results of the new study, if parents want their children to have single jabs, then they should be given the choice.
Jessica Shaughnessy, Chester, England

Measles can leave children deaf, blind, brain-damaged and in the worst cases, they die
S. Harris, Milton Keynes
My views on the MMR vaccine haven't changed a bit. I an completely unconvinced that its connected to autism, and I'm very concerned that gullible parents are exposing their children to very unpleasant childhood diseases by refusing to have the MMR. My daughter is 9 months old, and she will definitely receive the vaccine when it is due. People have forgotten just how lethal diseases like measles can be. Before the vaccines, the population had developed a lot of resistance to measles and most children just got a mild form, and were spotty - however, its not just about spots, measles can leave children deaf, blind, brain-damaged and in the worst cases, they die. Levels of MMR vaccination are so low in some areas now, that there is a very real danger of a measles epidemic similar to the one in Dublin some years back. I cannot and will not subject my daughter to that danger.
S. Harris, Milton Keynes, UK

Both my children have had the MMR Vaccine. Each time there was a lot on the news about dangers of having this Vaccine. I must admit I did feel more anxious about having my little boy, who is 6, vaccinated purely because of the statistics on boys and autism. The fact that I was an older mum (33) concerned me slightly more. When these reports are published why do they not show what exactly has been studied / considered? Surely with this information people would not automatically blame the MMR for their child's disability
S Sutton, Manchester

My nephew started having fits days after having the MMR jab. He is now autistic, so I believe there is a link. My girlfriend is pregnant and my child is due in 6 weeks. No child of mine will ever have the MMR jab
Jamie, Newcastle

These insane media scares are pathetic and severely detrimental
Catherine Hewitt, Nottingham
My Son was born with Asperger's, a mild form of autism, he did not contract it through MMR. These insane media scares are pathetic and severely detrimental. I recall the scare about the contraceptive pill that caused women to stop taking them. This led to a catastrophic increase in the number of abortions. Then people wonder why there the NHS is struggling. Imagine if there was an epidemic, people would soon be rushing for help for their children, again at the cost of the NHS. It is time these scares were made illegal. I firmly believe the sole reason for autism increase is due to the fact that since the early nineties people have begun to sit up and take notice, realising that these children are different and not just naughty.
Catherine Hewitt, Nottingham England

I represent a group of families in Halton who have children with autism. Many of them are convinced of the link with MMR as their child regressed immediately after the vaccine from an apparently normal able bodied child into deeply autistic behaviour.

As far as levelling out is concerned, in our area the incidences of autism are still rising dramatically as is the case of children with disabilities in general. Is there an environmental link also as our local air and land is heavily polluted by many years of chemical production?
Ciaran Shanahan, Secretary of HAFS (Halton Autistic Family Support Group), Halton, Cheshire

The seriously wrong story of 6 years ago has been given massive long-term publicity by the Media. At last it is now entirely disproved. It is time the Media asked themselves how they could have better handled the story.
Les Culank, Cambridge UK

I would be much happier if the single vaccination was more widely available
Alicia, Ipswich, UK
My son is now 3 and I have been trying to decide whether to give him the MMR for over 2 years now. Every time I make my mind up one way or the other I hear something in the news or from friends that makes me unsure again. Again researchers are telling us that the MMR is 'harmless', but some people are just too afraid of putting their child at risk of autism... even though we then put them at risk of other illnesses. I would be much happier if the single vaccination was more widely available - when I phoned local clinics to enquire about this they told me I'd never get the single vaccines in the UK and would have to go abroad! I'm happy to pay - just give people the choice.
Alicia, Ipswich, UK

Once I discovered that the original study was based on the assumption that autism is caused by a nutritional deficiency, I felt far more secure about vaccinating my children. The link between autism and any deficiency in the diet is spurious at best - why don't malnourished children in developing countries have a higher rate of autism, if that was the case? Nobody wants to do anything to harm their children, and since BSE they do not trust the government, which is why this MMR scare will run and run. The original claims can never be disproven to the satisfaction of everyone - but the fact remains that vaccination has saved literally millions of lives, and the chances of any child, vaccinated or not, developing autism for any reason is vanishingly small when compared with the risk from measles, mumps and rubella.
Victoria, UK

I still feel that there was a 'rogue' batch of MMR vaccinations here in South Wales. The rise in the number of reported cases of autism and asperger's syndrome, does not reassure me that the vaccination is safe. Although I am a firm believer that 'some' MMR batches are safe.
Tracey, South Wales

My daughter had the single dose measles and now is going to have the rest done as single dose. I believe that there is no smoke without fire in this case, I have no regrets at all going down the road of the single dose and wouldn't have again should we have another child. At the end of the day you do what you think is best for the safety of your child and not what some stuffed shirt in the government tells you to do.
Andy, Manchester,UK

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Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published.

The BBC's Karen Allen
"It's greater awareness that could account for the apparent rise in cases"

13 Jun 03  |  A-B
Autism linked to brain growth
15 Jul 03  |  Health
MMR 'does not cause autism'
07 Nov 02  |  Health

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