Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The MMR Vaccine and Autism: What's the Connection?

Anna Tielsch-Goddard CPNP-PC

Worldwide vaccination of our children has provided major advantages to protecting against infectious diseases that in the past 100 years has claimed the lives of millions.

Diseases that are preventable by vaccines still occur throughout the United States. It is a myth though that just because we do not see these diseases as much anymore, we need to stop vaccinating against them.

One of the largest recent measles outbreaks took place in 2008 in San Francisco, California and was routed to one patient, an unvaccinated 7-year-old boy. He traveled to Switzerland where he contacted the measles and then returned to California. Subsequently, he infected 836 children. Vaccinating your children protects not only them, but also other kids who come in contact with them (a concept in epidemiology known as "herd immunity").
There is a common misconception that the MMR vaccine causes or is linked to Autism or the Autism Spectrum Disorder. This erroneous belief began after a physician, Dr. Wakefield, published a study in a journal called The Lancet (which was ran on the first page of the journal) that claimed that there was a correlation (meaning a connection, NOT a cause and effect) of the MMR vaccine with autism.  Dr. Wakefield was being paid money by a law firm to “prove” that vaccines caused harm to patients.  In 2004, the co-authors that published this article requested to take their names off the paper. Finally, in 2009, The Lancet retracted the article and Dr. Wakefield's medical license was revoked for falsifying data.  Both the retraction of an article by a distinguished journal and taking away a physician’s medical license are huge offenses that do not commonly happen in the health care field. Unfortunately, the article's retraction, the claims of data falsification, and the revocation of Dr. Wakefield's license for misconduct, was ran on the 12-th page of the journal and did not receive nearly as much press as the initial 1998 claim. This contributed to the continued public misconception and fear of the correlation of MMR vaccine and Autism.
Some parents might report seeing regressive autism symptoms shortly after the administration of the MMR vaccine. This is coincidental, because autism symptoms start to emerge around 12-18 months of age, and the MMR vaccine is administered right after the first birthday. Numerous research studies done by scientists, both nationally and internationally, have shown that autism symptoms are not caused by vaccines. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) has also stood behind these very thorough assessments and rigorous research efforts. More than 1,000 research articles have been published and reviewed by the Institute of Medicine that have not found vaccines to cause autism.
Many people argue that they have found “proof” and “claims” that vaccines cause autism from the Internet or Google research.  The public needs to be very careful when finding information in non-medical or non-health care sites or articles that are available through the World Wide Web, specifically if they have not been reviewed by medical professionals.  Although the Internet has provided society with instant access to information, not all of this information is correct, it can also be misleading and provide false claims.
All current evidence shows that vaccines do not cause autism, so delaying or withholding vaccines will not lessen the risk of autism; it will only increase the period of time during which children are at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases.

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Centers of Disease Control (CDC): Immunization Safety and Autism – Thimerosal and Autism Research Chart. Available at:

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DeStefano F, Chen RT. (1999). Negative association between MMR and autism. Lancet. 353: 1986-1987.

Farrington CP, Miller E, Taylor B.(2001).  MMR and autism: further evidence against a causal association. Vaccine. 19: 3632-3635.

Fombonne E, Chakrabarti S. (2001). No evidence for a new variant of measles-mumps-rubella-induced autism. Pediatrics. 108: E58.

Honda H, Shimizu Y, Rutter M. (2005). No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study. J Child Psychology Psychiatry. 46:  572-579.

Heron J, Golding J. Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a prospective cohort study in the United Kingdom does not support a causal association.
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Hubbard, S. (2011). Autism and Vaccine Details. The Kids Dr. Available at:
Infectious Diseases in Children. October 2011. IOM: Vaccines do not cause autism. Available at:
Kimerblin, D. (Oct 2011).  The wars of the world: Saving lives through vaccination.  Infectious Diseases in Children.  Available at:
Stehr-Green P, Tull P, Stellfeld M, Mortenson PB, Simpson D. (2003). Autism and thimerosal-containing vaccines: lack of consistent evidence for an association. American Journal of Preventive Medicine.  25: 101-106.
Vaccine Education Center at the University of Pennsylvania: Vaccines and Autism. Available at:

Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Available at:
Anna Tielsch-Goddard CPNP-PC is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner for Children’s Medical Center Dallas at Legacy. She practices on the Perioperative Surgery teams in both presurgical assessment and pediatric-surgery.

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