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Editorial: Put to rest false link of autism, vaccine

Updated: November 4, 2011 10:53AM

Belief in a false link between vital childhood vaccinations and autism has persisted for years, fueled by bad science and distressed parents searching for answers.

It is time to put this falsehood to rest.

One study after another has found no link, and now the most comprehensive, independent analysis of research on childhood vaccines has come to the same conclusion.

The vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) does not cause autism, according to a review released last week by an expert committee of the Institute of Medicine.

The review is considered the best analysis of potential side effects of eight common childhood vaccines.

“MMR does not cause autism,” said Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton, who chaired the panel and is a pediatrician and bioethicist at Vanderbilt University.

“Something is causing autism,” Clayton added, noting the spike in autism diagnoses in recent years, “but it isn’t MMR. And the diseases this vaccine prevents are serious ones.”

Since a now-discredited 1998 British study suggested a possible link between autism and the MMR vaccine, the number of parents refusing to immunize their children has grown.

This has led to outbreaks of measles — a completely preventable disease — in parts of the United States.

A flood of other research followed, discrediting the 1998 British report; none found a link. For some vaccines and side effects, the Institute of Medicine panel did not have enough evidence to determine whether there was a link or not. That wasn’t the case with MMR and autism. There is plentiful, quality research, Clayton said.

Clayton sympathizes
with anxious parents searching
for answers: “This is a
frightening diagnosis, and people are trying to figure out what causes it.”

But a possible MMR-autism connection has been explored and dismissed.

It’s time to move on.

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