|A BBC television documentary claims that new research carried out by scientists in Britain has conclusively ruled out a link between autism and the triple MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.
This link was first proposed in 1998 by the British gastroenterologist, Dr Andrew Wakefield, who maintained that a sub-set of autistic children who had received the MMR jab suffered from a new type of bowel disease, which he calls autistic enterocolitis. His theory was that the measles virus in the vaccine was causing a persistent infection.
After the publication of Dr Wakefield’s study in the British medical
journal, The Lancet, in 1998, uptake of the combined vaccine fell to
alarmingly low levels in some parts of the United Kingdom as parents
demanded to have their children vaccinated separately with the three
elements of the vaccine a year apart.
A number of large epidemiological studies in the following years
appeared to disprove the link, and last year several of the researchers
involved in the 1998 study retracted their initial claim that MMR might
Nevertheless, anti-MMR campaigners insisted that what was needed was
not epidemiological and statistical studies but for someone to examine the
bowels of children with autism.
Now, such research has been carried out. Scientists at Guy’s Hospital,
in London, have been studying a large group of 100 autistic children. They
examined their blood samples, looking for traces of the measles virus in
their blood and in that of another group of non-autistic children. The
samples were analysed in some of Britain’s leading laboratories, using the
most sensitive methods available. The scientists found that 99 per cent of
the samples did not contain any trace of the measles virus. Crucially, there
was no difference between the autistic and non-autistic children. This
research has not yet been published.
Dr Timothy Buie, a paediatric gastroenterologist who works at a clinic
specialising in autism and related disorders at Massachusetts General
Hospital. Dr Buie has carried out colonoscopies of hundreds of children,
both with and without autism, and he has seen nothing to him that autistic
children have a new or distinctive form of bowel disease.
“I am not sure I can support, at this point, [the view] that the
findings of colitis are novel or different from other conditions that we
know,” Dr Buie told the BBC.
Nevertheless, Rosemary Kessick, the mother of a child with autism,
told the same programme: “I can’t see how any study could prove that the MMR has not caused the regressive autism in our children – not with the stack of evidence we have.”