MMR vaccine is declared safe

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The Independent Online
THE VACCINE against measles mumps and rubella was officially declared safe yesterday after two studies failed to find a link with autism or bowel disease.

Health officials and the Government hope the studies, by independent experts from the Committee of Safety of Medicines and the Public Health Laboratory Service, will lay to rest the worst vaccination scare of recent decades.

To back the findings, the Department of Health produced five leading scientists at a press conference to drive home the message of the studies and restore faith in the battered vaccination programme.

Experts are alarmed that public confidence in the MMR vaccine has collapsed after research by at the Royal Free Hospital in London suggesting it could play a role in Crohn's disease, a bowel disorder, and in autism. The research published in The Lancet in 1995 and 1998, triggered panic. Thousands of parents refused to take their children for vaccination and more than 1,800 contacted charities convinced their children had suffered.

Between October 1994 and April 1999, the proportion of children vaccinated against MMR by age 16 months had fallen from 85 per cent to 75 per cent, indicating the scale of the loss of confidence. Dr Elizabeth Miller, consultant epidemiologist at the laboratory service, warned yesterday that unless rates picked up there was a risk of a "serious resurgence" in the diseases.

Dr Jeremy Metters, the Government's deputy chief medical officer, said the new findings had been backed by the the World Health Organisation and were in line with the conclusions of an expert working party of 37 scientists convened last year. No research team anywhere in the world had been able to confirm the Royal Free findings. It was impossible to prove a negative - that there is no risk from MMR - but they had to point to the accumulating evidence that the vaccine was safe.

The first of the two studies examined the records of 92 children with autism and 15 with Crohn's passed to the Committee on Safety of Medicines by a firm of solicitors dealing with compensation claims. No link with MMR vaccine was found.

The second study, by the Public Health Laboratory Service and a separate team from the Royal Free Hospital, investigated the history of all 498autistic children born in the North Thames region since 1979. That study found no increase in autism after the introduction of mass MMR vaccination in 1988 and no link in the timing of MMR and the onset of autism. The researchers were unable to explain a rise in autism from fewer than 10 cases a year in the early 1980s to over 40 a decade later.