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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 September, 2004, 23:07 GMT 00:07 UK
Study backs safety of MMR vaccine
Image of a girl receiving MMR
The study found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism
A UK study of more than 5,000 children has ruled out any link between the MMR vaccine and autism, researchers say.

The Medical Research Council team could find no evidence of autism associated with the triple vaccine.

The MMR controversy was first sparked after a small-scale study published in The Lancet in 1998 by Dr Andrew Wakefield suggested a link.

The new study, appearing in the same journal, follows numerous others disproving any such link.

No link

The Medical Research Council team looked at the vaccination records of 1,294 children diagnosed with autism or other conditions they termed pervasive development disorders (PDDs) between 1987 and 2001 in England and Wales.

PDDs are a range of conditions first seen in childhood that include abnormalities in language development, communication abilities and social interactions, and a rigid, repetitive pattern of behaviours and interests.

These children were compared with 4,469 children of the same sex and similar age who were registered with the same GP surgeries but did not have autism or PDDs.

We have found no convincing evidence that MMR vaccination increases the risk of autism

Dr Liam Smeeth and his colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine were unable to find any evidence to support an association between the triple measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism or other PDDs.

Overall, 78% of the children with autism or a PDD had received MMR. Similarly, 82% of the other children had been given MMR.

This 4% difference was not significant, said Dr Smeeth.

Again, no difference was found when they looked specifically at autism, children vaccinated with MMR before their third birthday or the period before 1998 when controversy around the vaccine hit.

Dr Smeeth said: "We have found no convincing evidence that MMR vaccination increases the risk of autism or other PDDs.

"No significant association has been found in rigorous studies in a range of different settings."

He said research was now needed to try to pin down the real causes of autism.

Mounting evidence

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said: "This study shows that having MMR was not a risk factor for autism.

"The study is in full agreement with other international studies carried out in different ways, by different researchers, in different countries.

"MMR is recognised by the World Health Organisation as having an outstanding safety record".

Our great concern is that adverse reactions to vaccines are not reported and therefore are not included in the data that researchers look at
Jackie Fletcher from Jabs

Last month it was claimed a key study supporting the MMR vaccine's safety was wrongly carried out and gave inaccurate results.

The Danish research, which examined the medical records of more than 500,000 children born over eight years, concluded there was no link between children given MMR and the onset of autism.

An analysis of the same data by experts, published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, concluded children who received the triple jab were more likely to develop autism than those who were not given it.


The Department of Health strongly dismissed the claims.

A spokeswoman said the original Danish study had been reviewed by the Institute of Medicine in Washington and no problems had been raised about the validity of the data.

But Jackie Fletcher from Jabs said: "Our great concern is that adverse reactions to vaccines are not reported and therefore are not included in the data that researchers look at.

"If they really want to find out if vaccination is causing a problem the must change the post vaccination surveillance system."

She said doctors did not always report all adverse reactions to vaccines.

"If we could have a proper monitoring system where any reaction is collected and scrutinised we might get to the base of whether there is a link or not," she said.

Stephen Rooney, of Sense, the national deafblind and rubella charity, said: "MMR vaccine is widely used around the world and has an excellent safety record. There is no evidence that single vaccines are safer or as effective.

"As a society we have forgotten about the devastating effects of congenital rubella syndrome on the unborn child.

"We have forgotten precisely because MMR has been so successful in the UK."

The BBC's Gill Higgins
"Parents can be confident about giving their children MMR."

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