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Friday, February 27, 1998 Published at 03:13 GMT


Child vaccine linked to autism
image: [ Research says some children's behaviour changed after vaccine given ]
Research says some children's behaviour changed after vaccine given

A study by doctors at the Royal Free Hospital in London has suggested that a common childhood vaccine may be linked with autism and cause an intestinal disorder.

The BBC's health correspondent Fergus Walsh reports (0'58")
The research has discovered a new inflammatory bowel disease which is associated with autistic children.

[ image: Dr Andrew Wakefield:
Dr Andrew Wakefield: "overload" fears
The head of the research team, Dr Andrew Wakefield, raised alarms because children's behaviour changed drastically shortly after they received the controversial single dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

He believes that the combination of the three virus strains may overload the body's immune system and cause the bowel disorder to develop.

Vaccines 'should be given separately'

Other members of the team have questioned the connection, but Dr Wakefield claims that until further research is done to determine whether there is a link between the disease and the MMR vaccine, the jab should be given in three separate doses spaced by at least one year.

Dr Wakefield: "more research needed" (0'14)
However, he stressed the importance of children being immunised against the diseases, particularly measles.

Dr Wakefield, a reader in experimental gastroenterology, said: "This is a genuinely new syndrome and urgent further research is needed to determine whether MMR may give rise to this complication in a small number of people.

"For the vast majority of children the MMR vaccine is fine, but I believe there are sufficient anxieties for a case to be made to administer the three vacations separately.

Trials 'insufficient'

[ image: Trials not enough, says team]
Trials not enough, says team
"I do not think that the long-term safety trials of MMR are sufficient for giving the three vaccines together."

His colleague Professor Roy Pounder, who admitted the study was controversial, added: "In hindsight it may be a better solution to give the vaccinations separately, although administratively it is a wonderful idea.

"When the vaccinations were given individually there was no problem."

Research to determine the link between the syndrome and the MMR vaccine is currently under way. The team will meet the chief medical officer, who has already called for an independent review, at the end of March to discuss the vaccination.

Parents told to be wary of findings

Dr Murch: "diseases return" (0'13")
Dr Simon Murch, a consultant paediatrician, said: "If the vaccinations are dropped, the diseases come back and until you have a lot stronger evidence, then we should not be suggesting any change in immunisation policy."

The Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association urged parents to treat the research with extreme caution.

The Association's Professional Officer, Sue Botes, said: "These studies must be looked at in a wide context.

"The research is partly based on studies of a small sample of sick children suffering from specific diseases which may or may not be linked to the vaccines.

"We should concentrate on the benefits of the eradication of life-threatening diseases."

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Internet Links

Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine

MMR vaccine article

Society for the Autistically Handicapped

Autism Research Trust

Unicef UK - Immunisation

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