MMR vaccine is 'safe and does not cause autism', study finds

MMR vaccine is ‘safe and does not cause autism’ according to a review of dozens of studies into the medication involving millions of children

  • Researchers reviewed 138 different studies into the effect of the MMR vaccine 
  • They found that it is perfectly safe for use in the mass immunisation of children
  • The dozens of global studies involved tests of the vaccine on 23 million children 
  • The 138 studies revealed that two doses of the MMR vaccine was 96 per cent effective at stopping mumps, measles and rubella from taking hold

A vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella is safe and effective, according to a review looking at dozens of earlier studies involving millions of children. 

The review, completed by British policy institute Cochrane, involved examining 138 different studies into the vaccine and its side effects including whether there was any evidence it caused autism. 

The review was prompted by a rise in cases of measles and mumps in England and Wales, as the rate of immunisation for the diseases continues to fall.

This has in part been blamed on a discredited study that falsely claimed a link between the MMR and autism – the review says there is no evidence of a link. 

They found that the recommended two doses of the MMR jab are 96 per cent effective at stopping infection from mumps, measles and rubella. 

It comes after the World Health Organization last week raised concerns that measles vaccination rates will plummet as millions of children are kept away from GPs during the coronavirus crisis. 

The review was completed by Cochrane, a British policy institute, and involved examining 138 different studies into the vaccine and its side effects. Stock image

The authors found very little difference in the rate of autism between those who have and haven’t been vaccinated.

In fact, they found for every 100,000 unvaccinated children 451 had autism compared to 419 vaccinated children with autism.  

A Cochrane review is considered a gold-standard in research as it systematically looks at multiple studies on a subject over a long period of time.

The authors said: ‘The risks posed by these diseases far outweigh those of the vaccines administered to prevent them’.  

The MMR is first given to children aged 12 to 13 months, followed by a booster vaccine at three years and four months.  

According to the NHS, 94.5 per cent of five-year-olds were immunised with the first dose in 2018 – down from 94.9 per cent in 2017 and below the 95 per cent target.

Researchers say that even if not everyone has been vaccinated, reaching an immunisation rate of 95 per cent creates a ‘herd immunity’. 

There were 991 cases of measles in the UK in 2018, forcing the World Health Organisation to reverse a 2017 statement that the UK had eliminated the disease.

A rise in anti-vaxxers online and the Wakefield scare from the 1990s are in part to blame for the fall in immunisation numbers.

The Cochrane team looked at studies assessing the MMR vaccines and comparing them to placebo vaccines in healthy children up to 15 years old.  

Researchers looked back over 138 studies into the vaccine involving 23 million children including 51 studies of 10 million children looking at how effective it is.

Another 87 studies of 13 million children looked at any unwanted side effects.

Overall they found that the MMR vaccine did not cause autism – that’s from two studies involved 1.19 million children.

There was a very small risk of fits from high temperature or fever about two weeks after vaccination and of a condition where blood does not clot normally. 

‘Our review shows that MMR, MMRV and MMR+V vaccines are effective in preventing the infection of children by measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox,’ they said.

Now-discredited gastroenterologist, Andrew Wakefield, sparked controversy and concern over the MMR vaccine by mistakenly linking it to autism

They say there is ‘no evidence of an increased risk of autism or encephalitis and a small risk of febrile seizure’ from the vaccine.

They looked at autism rates among more than 1.1 million children as part of the research – looking at vaccinated and unvaccinated children with autism. 

They say that the evidence supports the use of MMR for mass immunisation.

Additionally, they found no evidence supporting an association between MMR immunisation and a range of other conditions ‘supposedly linked’ to the drug.

This includes cognitive delay, type 1 diabetes, asthma, dermatitis/eczema, hay fever, leukaemia, multiple sclerosis, gait disturbance and bacterial or viral infections. 

The Cochrane review isn’t the first to analyse multiple studies to prove the effectiveness and safety of the MMR vaccine.

Scientists from Italy’s regional epidemiology unit analysed more than 100 studies.

They found one dose was 95 per cent effective at preventing measles and among children who didn’t get the first dose 7 per cent would be expected to catch measles compared to 0.5 per cent of immunised children.

“In terms of safety, we know from previous studies all around the world that the risks posed by these diseases far outweigh those of the vaccines administered to prevent them,” said lead author Dr Di Pietrantonj.   


Andrew Wakefield’s discredited autism research has long been blamed for a drop in measles vaccination rates

In 1995, gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield published a study in The Lancet showing children who had been vaccinated against MMR were more likely to have bowel disease and autism.

He speculated that being injected with a ‘dead’ form of the measles virus via vaccination causes disruption to intestinal tissue, leading to both of the disorders.

After a 1998 paper further confirmed this finding, Wakefield said: ‘The risk of this particular syndrome [what Wakefield termed ‘autistic enterocolitis’] developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR, rather than the single vaccines.’

At the time, Wakefield had a patent for single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, and was therefore accused of having a conflict of interest.

Nonetheless, MMR vaccination rates in the US and the UK plummeted, until, in 2004, the editor of The Lancet Dr Richard Horton described Wakefield’s research as ‘fundamentally flawed’, adding he was paid by a group pursuing lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers.

The Lancet formally retracted Wakefield’s research paper in 2010.

Three months later, the General Medical Council banned Wakefield from practising medicine in Britain, stating his research had shown a ‘callous disregard’ for children’s health.

On January 6 2011, The British Medical Journal published a report showing that of the 12 children included in Wakefield’s 1995 study, at most two had autistic symptoms post vaccination, rather than the eight he claimed.

At least two of the children also had developmental delays before they were vaccinated, yet Wakefield’s paper claimed they were all ‘previously normal’.

Further findings revealed none of the children had autism, non-specific colitis or symptoms within days of receiving the MMR vaccine, yet the study claimed six of the participants suffered all three.

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