Expert Q+A: Is There a Link Between Vaccines and Autism?

Q. Does the MMR vaccine cause autism?

In 1998, a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield published a research paper in a British medical journal, The Lancet, claiming autism in children was linked to the MMR vaccine. However, the research sample was very small (only 12 kids were studied, eight of whom were diagnosed with autism). But in March 2004, after questions were raised about the study, 10 of the 13 researchers involved withdrew their claim of having found a possible connection between MMR and autism.

By early 2010, The Lancet retracted Dr. Wakefield's research and by January 2011, the British Medical Journal publicly denounced Dr. Wakefield's research as "fraudulent," saying he "falsified data" and tampered with his research results to give the MMR vaccine bad publicity. At the time of his study, Dr. Wakefield had been involved in a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine and would have gained money if he'd won, making his research an obvious conflict of interest.

But perhaps the most compelling argument that the MMR vaccine does NOT cause autism is Japan -- in 1993, that country stopped using the combination MMR vaccine. Instead, Japanese children were given three separate shots for these diseases. Despite this change, autism rates in Japan continue to rise.

Plus, the hysteria surrounding the MMR vaccine and the false 1998 report did have one serious consequence in England: a sharp rise in measles, mumps and rubella after parents stopped giving their kids the vaccine. In 2004, only 40 percent of children in the U.K. were vaccinated against MMR. And look at the rise in cases of mumps:

1995: 1936 cases of mumps
2003: 4265 cases
2004: 15,503 cases

Here's the bottom line: As a doctor who sees a large volume of kids, I have never seen a perfectly normally developing kid walk into my office, get his MMR vaccine ... and come back next week with autism. It doesn't happen.

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