WASHINGTON – A common vaccine given to children to protect them against measles, mumps and rubella is not linked to autism, a study published Wednesday concludes.
The findings contradict earlier research that had fueled fears of a possible link between childhood vaccinations and a steep increase in autism diagnoses.
In February 1998, the Lancet journal published a study by British researcher Andrew Wakefield of 12 children with autism and other behavioral problems that suggested the onset of their behavioral abnormalities was linked to receiving the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.
The new study comes as the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington is in the midst of evaluating evidence on whether children’s vaccines are implicated in causing autism. A special master is evaluating three different kinds of claims – two of which specifically link the MMR vaccine with autism.
Like Wakefield’s study, the new study looked for evidence of potential links between MMR vaccinations, autism and the digestive (gastrointestinal, or GI) problems sometimes seen in autistic children.
“If in fact you want to implicate a factor in the causation of an illness, it must be present before the illness,” said W. Ian Lipkin, a professor of epidemiology, neurology and pathology at Columbia University, explaining the idea behind the study.
“In the event MMR was responsible for autism, the MMR must precede the onset of autism,” he said.
“There was no evidence … MMR preceded either autism or GI problems” in the children studied, Lipkin said.
The research, published in the journal Public Library of Science One, examined when the children began showing behavioral problems and when they were vaccinated, and it examined bowel biopsies for telltale genetic traces of the MMR vaccine.
Since obtaining the biopsies required sedating the children and an invasive procedure, Lipkin said his analysis was limited to a small sample of 38 children who needed the biopsies as part of their medical care.