PRINCETON, NJ – A study funded by the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) that will be published in tomorrow's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine reports there is no association between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism.
The registry-based study –– focused on more than 530,000 children born in Denmark between 1991 and 1998, of whom approximately one-fifth did not receive the MMR vaccination. Researchers at the Danish Epidemiology Science Center at Aarhus University in Denmark found no increased risk for developing autism among children who received the MMR vaccine as compared to children who did not receive the vaccine.
The project, "Risk Factors for Neurodevelopmental Disorders: MMR Vaccine & Childhood Autism," utilizes Denmark's unique health registry data – which is among the most complete health information systems in the world. The system tracks birth records, vaccination records and records indicating a diagnosis for autism spectrum disorders.
"The design and population size of this study are at the core of its strength, which separates it from any previous studies focusing on MMR and autism," said Andy Shih, Ph.D., NAAR's director of Research & Programs. "By using Denmark's comprehensive health registry system, researchers were able to take advantage of a very large population base and compare risk factors between children who received the MMR vaccination, and those who did not. Many other studies focusing on MMR and autism have not been able to make this type of detailed comparison due to the limits of the health records involved with those studies."
The study also marks the first time a national parent-led autism organization has funded a project on MMR and autism that was published in one of the world's most prestigious medical journals. NAAR and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention co-funded the study in 2001. "As an organization of family members of children and adults with autism, NAAR is dedicated to seeking the truth regarding the cause or causes of autism and funding the very best science available," said Karen London, NAAR co-founder and a parent of a child with autism. "This study provides us with perhaps the most solid statistical evidence to date on whether the MMR vaccine increases the risk for developing autism."
Additional studies are currently being conducted in the U.S. by the federal government, including the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
"The collective results from all these studies will provide an even clearer picture on MMR and autism and help the research community and the general public to develop a more accurate understanding of this controversial issue," said London.
While the Danish study provides strong evidence against the association between the MMR vaccine and autism, Dr. Shih noted that more research is needed to address the issue of whether smaller subgroups of the population are vulnerable to the MMR vaccine.
"The MMR issue remains one of the most intensely debated topics concerning autism and has caused public health situations in some countries," he said. "We support research that investigates all theories surrounding potential causes of autism, including whether there is a link between childhood vaccines and this devastating disorder."
Immunology is an area of research that receives steady support from NAAR. In 2002 alone, NAAR invested more than $300,000 on three separate projects focusing on immunology and autism, including an additional two-year grant to expand the Danish study focusing on MMR and autism.
This week in the JournalThe New England Journal of Medicine, November 7, 2002 Perspective