The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine does not increase the risk of autism and does not trigger autism in children who are at risk, according to a new study of over 650,000 children.
Researchers used a population registry to evaluate whether the MMR vaccine increased the risk of autism in children born in Denmark between 1999 and 2010. A total of 657,461 children were followed through August 2013, with the researchers documenting diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder as well as known risk factors including age of the parents, diagnosis of autism in a sibling, preterm birth and low weight at birth.
Over 95% of the children received the MMR vaccine, and 6,517 were diagnosed with autism. 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, according to the study, published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
The biggest contribution of the study was the inclusion of children at risk of autism, said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who was not involved in the new research. He hopes the latest piece of evidence will reassure families with young children at risk of developing autism spectrum disorder that the vaccine will not increase that risk.
The myth linking vaccines and autism grew out of a 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield. An investigation found that he had altered or misrepresented information on the 12 children who were the basis for the conclusion of his study, and that he had been compensated by a law firm intending to sue manufacturers of the MMR vaccine. In 2010, Wakefield lost his medical license.
The World Health Organization has deemed vaccine hesitancy — the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines — as a top 10 threat to global health in 2019. With anti-vaccine groups becoming more vocal and even celebrities and politicians spreading fear of vaccines, Anders Hviid, lead study author and senior investigator at Statens Serum Institut in Denmark, wanted to provide solid scientific answers.
Dr. Offit adds, “At this point, you’ve had 17 previous studies done in seven countries on three different continents, involving hundreds of thousands of children. I think it’s fair to say a truth has emerged.”