Ongoing beliefs that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have persisted. However, ongoing research has shown no link between the vaccine and the disorder.
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Now, a large new study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association finds the MMR vaccination has no association to the development of autism — even among children who are at higher risk for the disorder.
Largest study of its kind
Researchers analyzed a study group of more than 95,000 children who did and did not get the MMR vaccine. Not only did the researchers find no association between the MMR vaccination and development of autism. They also found no association even in high-risk families – those with an older child with autism.
This is important because parents who already have a child with autism can be reluctant to vaccinate their other children. “In high-risk families, there was some concern that those children would be at higher risk if they received the vaccine,” says Thomas Frazier II, PhD, autism expert.
Although a substantial number of studies over the last 15 years have found no link between MMR vaccine and autism, this new study is one of the largest of its kind, published by the Lewin Group. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The study found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism, regardless of whether older siblings had the disorder. This is an important finding, says Dr. Frazier, who was not involved in the research.
“It’s an important addition to literature. We’ve known for a while through a large number of studies and samples that MMR is very unlikely to lead to autism,” Dr. Frazier says. “Now we know that it’s not just in the general population. It’s true for high-risk families, too.”
Researchers hope this will ease the minds of parents who may have been unsure about vaccinating their children. At this point, there is plenty of data to support that the MMR vaccination does not cause autism. Dr. Frazier says we need to focus our attention on finding the real causes of the disorder.
“There are treatments for autism,” Dr. Frazier says. “Children cannot avoid autism by avoiding things like vaccines used to treat diseases like the measles.”
With new research, experts hope to unravel the mechanisms of ASD; they want to more fully understand how and why this group of complex disorders affects brain development. ASD can affect children in their social communication and interactions and is associated with restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities.
Ultimately, experts say current and future research about autism needs to:
- Identify the genetic causes
- What these factors do to the brain
- How that leads to autism
“Autism is a highly genetic disorder,” Dr. Frazier says. “At this point, researchers should focus on identifying the genetic causes and how those genes interact with environmental changes.”