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Does the MMR Vaccine Cause Autism?

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Updated June 01, 2009


The Mumps/Measles/Rubella (MMR) vaccine uses several live viruses to immunize children against what have, in the past, been disabling and even fatal illnesses. In 1994, the vaccine was mandated for all school age children. Since then, a spike has been seen in autism diagnoses. Many of those diagnoses occur within months of children's first MMR shot. Is there a connection? Despite energetic denials by major research institutions, the question remains controversial.

Background: Why the MMR Vaccine Is Controversial


In 1998, British gastroenterologist Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper suggesting a possible association between childhood MMR (Mumps/Measles/Rubella) immunization, bowel disease and autism. Wakefield proposed the idea that Interaction between viruses could (1) have a negative impact on a child’s immune system; (2) lead to persistent infection in the gastrointestinal tract and (3) lead, in the long run, to possible brain damage and autism.

Wakefield’s study was published by the Lancet, one of the world’s top medical journals. Later, however, they called the study “fatally flawed.” Among the flaws: Wakefield, a gastroenterologist, was studying children who had originally presented with gastrointestinal problems -- hardly a random sample. In addition, the group studied was very small -- and no conclusive proof was offered that the measles virus found in autistic childrens’ guts was causally connected to their autism.

Wakefield was asked to leave his position in Britain, and retracted some of the study outcomes. Today, he is the head of a Texas-based research group called “Thoughtful House.” There, he and his colleagues continue their research. Meanwhile, various large-scale studies in the US and Denmark seem to refute Wakefield’s initial findings. The official perspective of the CDC is that there is no proven connection between live-virus vaccines and autism.

The Case Against the MMR Vaccine

The CDC Response: Lack of Evidence

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