Is there a link between MMR vaccinations and the rise in Autism? The rule of thumb used to be that babies should begin the MMR vaccinations at one year. Much controversy has been stirred about these vaccinations. Autism often begins to be recognized about the time the toddlers are vaccinated for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella, so is this vaccination the cause of the epidemic of autism?
Today, many parents and some doctors are recommending delaying the beginning of the series until children are 18 months or more. Some feel it is best to give the inoculations individually.
Articles on different sides of the issue:
1. Research is still needed to prove there is no connection between MMR vaccine and Autism- Ask Dr. Sears
2. Dr. Sears offers an alternate vaccination schedule- Dr. Sear’s alternate schedule
3. Parents have the right to choose vaccinations- Different Immunization Schedules
4. Merck will resume making individual MMR vaccines in 2011- Merck
5. Timeline of MMR Controversy- Timeline
6. Duke University article is typical of the vast majority of medical opinions- Medical Opinion
7. Analysis of more than 1.2 million children. See this 2014 article: New Meta-analysis: No association between vaccines and autism.
What is the controversy over the MMR and Autism?
The whole controversy started in 1998 when Dr. Andrew Wakefield, then of London’s Royal Free hospital, suggested a link between the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine and an increased risk of autism and bowel disorders. Then in 2000 Dr. Wakefield along with pathologist Prof. John O’Leary, of Coombe Women’s hospital in Dublin, presented research to the US Congress. They showed that tests on 25 children with autism revealed 24 had traces of measles virus in their gut. As a result, there was real panic that children who received the MMR could become autistic.
In 2001, the British Medical Journal noted that autism continued to rise despite MMR rates remaining static.
In 2005, Japanese scientists reported that autism rates continued to rise in Japan after the withdrawal of the MMR vaccination in 1993.
In 2006, a Canadian study of 27, 749 children ruled out an association between pervasive developmental disorder and MMR vaccination.
In 2008, a team from London’s Guy’s and St. Thomas’s hospitals studied the immune responses of 240 children after the MMR and found no link to autism.
Currently research indicates there is no proof of a causative link between MMR and autism. That is a far cry from proving there is no link between MMR and autism. The National Vaccine Advisory Committee has recommended a large-scale research trial of vaccinated and non-vaccinated children to determine severe reactions to vaccinations, including autism. They first have to determine the feasibility of the study and methods. The results, if indeed the study is done, will not be available for at least several years.
What is so alarming about the MMR?
There is an alarming increase in the incidence of autism and autism spectrum disorders. The rate has risen from 1 per 2,000 during the 1960s and 1970s to 1 per 1,000 in the 1980s. Current estimates are 1 per 150, if both autism and autism spectrum disorders are included.
A California study comparing the reported incidence of autism between early 1990s and 2007 could not possibly be explained by different diagnostic criteria, more awareness of autism, increased funding, and expanding treatment options. In other words, it is a real, not imagined or manufactured increase in cases of autism. The increased incidence of autism is seen wherever data exists.
There have been two things about the MMR that caused fear of autism.
First was the fear of thimerosal. Thimerosal was used as a preservative to prevent bacterial and fungal contamination of some vaccines. It is a mercury compound that metabolized to ethylmercury and thiosalicylate. Over 1500 studies and papers document the hypoallergenicity and toxicity of thimerosal for decades. Between 1992 and 2001 autism increased dramatically and children were exposed to three times as much thimerosal in their routine vaccinations. Since 1999 thimerosal-free vaccines have been made available. Not all vaccines are thimerosal free even today. It is still used in influenza vaccines that are recommended for infants.
Mercury is known to cause brain dysfunctions, so it is reasonable to avoid thimerosal from all vaccines. Jenny McCarthy, and other prominent celebrities, are convinced that their children became autistic after receiving the MMR because they were not able to metabolize and eliminate the mercury in those injections. These parents are not saying that all autism is caused by thimerosal, but rather that in children unable to eliminate mercury, it can initiate the symptoms of autism. Thimerosal does not seem reasonable as a cause for most of the increase in autism. However, if it affects any children and can be eliminated in all vaccines, it should be. Parents should refuse any vaccine with thimerosal.
The second cause for concern was that giving combinations of vaccines at the same time overwhelms the immune system of children thus causing autism. The Poling family in Georgia, USA, won a significant court case after their daughter, Hannah, developed autism-like symptoms following inoculation with 9 vaccines when she was 19 months old. This started a trend toward separate vaccines given over a few years. That worked until Merck quit producing the separate Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccines. An official of the company has said they will again supply the individual vaccines sometime in 2011.
Why give the MMR at all?
Although mumps and rubella are usually relatively minor illnesses, Measles can progress to encephalitis or viral pneumonia. Since all the controversy started, many parents refused to allow their children to receive this jab. An epidemic of measles is rare, but more likely when many in the population are unimmunized. The risk of needing hospitalization from measles complications is about 1 per 100 to 1 per 300 cases of measles. The risk of death from measles is about 1 per 1000 to 1 per 3000 cases.
Thirty states have mandatory vaccine laws, however parents must only meet the state requirements when their children enter daycare, preschool or kindergarten. All states will allow an exemption for religious reasons except Mississippi and West Virginia.
What can parents do?
Dr. Sears, a well-respected authority suggests alternatives to the usual schedule of giving the MMR at 1 year and 5 years.
Parents may delay the MMR until age 4 or when the child begins school, whichever comes first. A child who receives the MMR after age 4 does not need to give a second dose since the immunization is more effective after the age of 4. Also, children who are not in school run much less risk of contracting the diseases.
Parents may give the MMR after age 1 whenever the child begins preschool so as to have disease protection. Instead of giving the second jab at age 5, they may have a blood test done to verify immunity to measles. The reason for the second vaccination is that a small percentage of children lose their immunity after the first injection.
Naturopaths and some more conservative authors suggest parents spread out immunizations over a longer period of time. This allows the child’s immune system to recover from one vaccination before receiving another. In this case, the recommendation is to leave 2-6 months between jabs.Conventional wisdom says this alternative leaves babies vulnerable to some very serious diseases for a longer time. Since the safety of other immunizations is not being questioned, this approach is probably the least reasonable.
Childhood diseases that used to decimate whole communities have been virtually eliminated by the vaccines now available. Diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, hepatitis B, chicken pox, tuberculosis and H. influenza, as well as measles, mumps, and rubella are among the diseases we no longer fear.
The best advice currently available is to continue having your children immunized as your pediatrician recommends. If your child shows signs of an illness, postpone inoculations until he is well. If you want to delay the MMR, follow one of Dr. Sear’s alternatives.
Additional Articles of interest:
1. National Autism Association discusses the Thimerosal controversy.
2. Wikipedia has good details of the MMR controversy
3. The CDC Recommendations for childhood immunizations
4. The AMA warning of Risks in delaying childhood immunizations.
5. Increase in Measles due to MMR Controversy.
6. An Alternate Schedule with no more than 2 vaccinations per month
7. Up-dated information for 2010
8. MMR/Autism study declared a Fraud in 2011
9. Dr. Manny has an autistic child and has thoroughly researched this controversy. Read Dr. Manny’s conclusions for 2011