MMR vaccine not linked to autism, researchers claim

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The dramatic increase in cases of autism among children over the last decade cannot be accounted for by the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, researchers said yesterday.

The dramatic increase in cases of autism among children over the last decade cannot be accounted for by the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, researchers said yesterday.

A study of 305 children aged 12 or younger diagnosed with autism between 1988 and 1999, found the incidence of the brain disorder increased seven-fold over the period. In boys aged two to five, it increased fourfold.

Yet over the same period the proportion of children vaccinated with MMR was virtually constant, at 97 per cent in each year, and was similar for boys and girls. Whatever the explanation for the rise in autism, it could not be MMR, the researchers concluded.

The finding, published on the British Medical Journal's website, provides further reassurance about the safety of MMR and is a blow to researchers led by Dr Andrew Wakefield of the Royal Free Hospital in north London, who first suggested the link between the vaccine and autism.

The study was carried out by American researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine but they used data from the UK General Practice research database, regarded as one of the most sophisticated in the world.

But it leaves the increase in autism unexplained. The researchers, led by James Kaye, an epidemiologist, suggest the likeliest reason is increased awareness among parents and doctors that children with behavioural problems may have an autistic disorder.

It is also possible that some as yet unidentified environmental factor may be responsible, they say. A Finnish study of 3 million children who received MMR since 1982, published in December, also found no link with autism.

The Government is to launch a £3m publicity campaign later this month to persuade parents to have their children vaccinated.

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