Doctors link autism to MMR vaccination

GOVERNMENT experts last night urged parents to continue to take their children for immunisation after doctors raised new fears that the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella could be linked with autism.

Researchers at the Royal Free Hospital in London said that they had identified a new bowel disorder in children associated with autistic symptoms of social withdrawal which occurred soon after MMR vaccination.

Dr Andrew Wakefield, who led the study of 12 children published in The Lancet medical journal, said the combined vaccine should be split up to reduce its impact on the immune system. However, other members of the team said the evidence was not strong enough to alter practice and experts said the link could be co-incidence. They warned that deaths from measles would rise if immunisation rates fell.

Dr Jeremy Metters, deputy chief medical officer, said two departmental committees of experts had kept in close touch with the work at the Royal Free and neither had seen any reason to change the programme. "Our advice is to continue to vaccinate your children," he said.

In an unrelated move, the department announced that all blood plasma used to make products from vaccines to clotting factors, would in future be imported from abroad to reduce the "theoretical risk" of transmitting new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The measure is intended to boost confidence in British-made blood products abroad after indications that Europe was preparing to ban them. Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, said the move was precautionary. "We must proceed on the principle that it is better to be safe than sorry," he said.

Doctors split, page 5

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