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Newest Scientific Review of Vaccine Safety Affirms No Link to Autism

Today, the journal Pediatrics published an update to the 2011 Institute of Medicine report on the safety of early childhood vaccines. The new study, "Safety of Vaccines Used for Routine Immunization of U.S. Children: A Systematic Review," is part of a larger report on vaccine safety requested by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 

In their update, the researchers reviewed all vaccine-safety research published since the 2011 IOM report. This included five recent studies on the measles-mump-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

“Strength of evidence is high that the MMR vaccine is not associated with the onset of autism in children,” they write. “This conclusion supports the findings of all previous reviews on the subject.” The authors include epidemiologists and public-health researchers with the RAND Corporation (a global nonprofit research group), UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine and Boston Children’s Hospital.

The review did associate the MMR vaccine with higher rates of febrile, or fever-related, seizures in infants. Pediatricians consider infant febrile seizures generally harmless, though any seizure warrants medical attention. In rare cases, infant febrile seizures can reflect undiagnosed epilepsy. Around a third of individuals with autism also develop epilepsy. (Read more about autism and epilepsy here.)

In an accompanying commentary, University of Utah pediatrician Carrie Byington asks whether such in-depth reviews – while important for assuring safety – reassure parents. “Parents trust their child’s doctor over government officials, family members or celebrities as the best source of information on vaccine safety,” she concludes. “Ideally, provider confidence in vaccine safety will increase the confidence of the families they serve and increase vaccination rates for children, safeguarding the health of the nation.”