Debunking the Vaccination-Autism Scare

Much doubt has been cast upon the safety of vaccines with some being implicated in worldwide scares that vaccines result in a more serious condition. With the increasing case of autism, people feared that vaccines may have something to do about it.

A decade ago, Andrew Wakefield stirred this doubt by suggesting that, based on his research, the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine has an undesirable effect that may ultimately lead to autism.

Vaccines are important to individual and public health. It has helped to decrease the number of cases of diseases that has before been tagged as epidemic.

However, parents also want their child to grow as normal human beings. If it is true that vaccines may lead to regressive developmental disorder, then parents fear that having their child vaccinated may be too a high a risk. This paper aims to look at the validity of Wakefield’s claim and presents data contradicting it.

Debunking the Vaccination-Autism Scare


In 1998, The Lancet published an article that initiated a worldwide scare that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination causes autism in children.

The MMR vaccination has been linked to cause autism when an increase in the incidence of children displaying regressive behavioural conditions increased after the introduction of the vaccine in 1988. The Lancet article was based on the study by Andrew Wakefield and his 12 colleagues that seeks the association between intestinal dysfunction in children and regressive developmental disorder.

The data gathered showed a possible link of MMR vaccination to intestinal dysfunction but did not prove nor disprove the theory that the vaccine may actually lead to autism. Several other researches have been performed which found no association between MMR vaccination and autism and it is now generally accepted that the scare has no credible foundation and should be ignored.

Wakefield’s Study

Wakefield and colleagues studied a group of 12 children aged 3-10 years who had intestinal dysfunction. The children have “a history of normal development followed by loss of acquired skills, including language, together with diarrhoea and abdominal pain” (Wakefield, 1998). Nine of the children had autism, another has disintegrative psychosis, and the other two had possible post-viral or vaccinal encephalitis.

Eleven of the children had MMR vaccination, and the parents or the physician of eight of these children had associated the onset of the child’s behavioural problems with the vaccination as the symptoms occurred 1-14 days after it.

The researchers found that colonic and rectal mucosal abnormalities were found in eight of the children and there were macroscopic colonic appearances in the other four. Wakefield (1998) reported that “the most striking and consistent feature was lymphoid nodular hyperplasia of the terminal ileum which was seen in nine children.”

The correlation between intestinal dysfunction and autism has been put forward by several researchers including Walker-Smith et al. who recorded the link between celiac disease and behavioural psychoses in 1972, D’Eufemia et al. who identified small intestinal enteropathy in 43% of autistic test subjects in 1996, and Panskepp et al. who first forwarded the “opioid excess” theory of autism in 1979 (Wakefield, 1998).

Although Wakefield’s research has confirmed a connection between intestinal dysfunction and regressive developmental disorder, particularly autism, he was wrong to assume that intestinal dysfunctions were caused by the MMR vaccine.

His hypothesis that that the MMR vaccine leads to intestinal dysfunction that permits the absorption of non-permeable peptides which, in turn, as suggested by the opioid excess theory, results in serious developmental disorders, including autism. He was careful to say, however, that “intestinal and behavioural pathologies may have occurred together by chance” and was quick to confess that they did not prove an association between the MMR vaccine and autism (Wakefield, 1998).

Other Vaccine-Autism Claims

In 2005, David Kirby in his book, Evidence of Harm. Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy, postulated that thimerosal (others thiomersal), a mercury-based additive found in vaccines, fuels the chance of acquiring autism and other developmental disorders.

Kirby claims that thimerosal had never been tested for safety and risk when it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the 1930s. His only basis seems to be the conviction of parents who believed that vaccines are to blame for the increase in incidence of autism and, unlike Wakefield, offered no scientific evidence supportive of his claims.