Critics have noted that the rates of autism have increased since the MMR vaccine began to be widely used in 1988, and suggest that the vaccine is responsible. The MMR vaccine is commonly used in children to prevent measles, mumps and rubella (also known as German measles). But James A. Kaye, M.D., and colleagues report in the Feb. 17 issue of the British Medical Journal that there is no real link between MMR vaccination and occurrence of autism.
Kaye, an epidemiologist at Boston University Medical School, and colleagues examined data from the United Kingdom on the occurrence of autism between 1988 and 1999. They chose this period because the MMR vaccine was introduced in 1988, and because the incidence of autism increased greatly over the same period.
Autism is predominantly found in boys — usually after the age of 2 years. In this study, the authors identified 305 children under the age of twelve, whose autism was first recorded during 1988-1999. Of these children, 254 — or 83 percent — were male.
In 1988, there were only 0.3 new cases of autism diagnosed per 10,000 person-years, while in 1999 there were 2.1 new cases per 10,000 person-years, a sevenfold increase, the authors pointed out. When they examined groups of boys born each year from 1988-1993, they found that the risk of autism increased from 8 per 10,000 in 1988, to 29 per 10,000 in 1993. Thus they found that the reported increases in autism diagnosis were substantiated by the data.
When they examined the data on vaccination, however, Kaye found no increasing trend in frequency of MMR vaccine use. Indeed, over 95 percent of the children had been vaccinated during the entire period under investigation, and this percentage remained constant over that time.
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