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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Unintended consequences

by  /  4 March 2008

This article is more than five years old. Autism research — and science in general — is constantly evolving, so older articles may contain information or theories that have been reevaluated since their original publication date.


Only 88.6 percent of children in the UK are immunized for mumps, measles and rubella, according to a rather dispiriting study released online last week in the British Medical Journal.

That rate is well below the 95 percent required for herd immunity, the level at which an entire population would be protected from the diseases. Not surprisingly, cases of measles are on the rise in the country, increasing by a whopping 17-fold from 56 cases to 971 cases ― including the death of a 13-year-old boy last year ― between 1998 and 2007.

Itʼs no accident that the increase began in 1998. That was the year a Lancet report linked the MMR jab to autism. That report has since been withdrawn and the Lancet editors have apologized for ever publishing it, but the damage was done. According to the new study, nearly 75 percent of those who chose not to vaccinate their kids said they had made a “conscious decision” not to.

The new vaccination rate is at least slightly higher than the rate of 79 percent reported in 2003. For this study researchers studied immunization data on 14,578 children born between September 2000 and January 2002.

In the US, vaccinations are often required for school admissions and their rates have stayed at more than 95 percent. That may not last if people in positions of influence ― and yes, I mean John McCain ― make statements about the “strong evidence that indicates that itʼs got to do with a preservative in vaccines.”

Whatever Senator McCainʼs true beliefs, to say there is strong evidence linking vaccines with autism is to ignore significant evidence to the contrary.

If thereʼs anything the Wakefield events have shown, itʼs that statements like his could do lasting harm to the efforts to protect children from dangerous infectious diseases.

TAGS:   autism