Is Autism Linked to the MMR Injection?

Have you gotten questions about child vaccinations? well in this interview we invited Claire Powell who is a nurse specialist with the Health Protection Team in North Wales, UK to answer some of your questions surrounding child vaccines.

Do babies need to be vaccinated?
We all get a little complacent, we do not see certain conditions anymore, [we think] my child will be fine. Without vaccinations we'd go back to the days when children under five would die. These vaccines get rid of these diseases.

How do we ensure our children get their vaccinations?
The health visitor will visit between day 10 and 14 and at that visit the health visitor will give the parent a book about vaccinations. There's a database that all children are registered on and automatically they'll be sent appointments through the post about their vaccines.

We hear a lot about MMR but what is it?
There's been a lot written about it. The thing to remember is that the vaccine is a weakened version of the live Measles, Mumps and Rubella viruses. MMR protects against all of them. Measles is a very infectious virus. The complications of measles affect one in every 15 children which is quite a high number. In serious cases measles can be a killer.

Mumps is caused by a virus and it can lead to fever, headache and swollen glands … Before this vaccine, this was one of the biggest causes of viral meningitis.

Rubella, sometimes known as German Measles is caused by a virus, it's typically a mild condition but one of the most serious complications can be in unborn babies. If a lady was pregnant in the first few months and she came into contact with a child who had Rubella it could have serious complications for her unborn child.

And what about the links with autism?
The speculation started some time ago in 1998. Some scientists published a paper on 12 children who had autism but they also had bowel problems. Although the scientists stated clearly in their paper that there was no proven link between autism and the MMR vaccine the resulting publicity unfortunately the impression that there was a link.

The number of children being diagnosed with autism has increased and one of the reasons is we're getting better at diagnosing the condition but some people took this as mean that the increase was because of the MMR vaccine.

Many parents of autistic children know that there is something wrong with their child very early on and some babies may appear to develop signs of autism when they're older and this kind of autism is actually called regressive autism and was known about long before the MMR vaccine was introduced.

Unfortunately the vaccine is given at around the time that children are communicating more ….. they're pointing, they have a few words … it's at this time that autistic spectrum disorder is picked up which is the time the MMR vaccine is given.

There's been a lot written about this and I just want to say I'm a Mum myself and there is no link between autism and the MMR vaccine and there's been many, many studies done, not just in this country but in Finland, the United States and other parts of Europe. Every time these big, big studies with experts, people who do this all the time, have come back they say there's no scientific link.

If there was any doubt that these vaccinations were going to cause any harm to children they would be removed, they would not be licensed. At the end of the day we're all in this job to protect children. We're doing this to prevent the diseases.

Why can not we give single vaccines?
All evidence shows that the vaccine is safe. The reason we do not promote the single vaccines is that it's the time gaps between the three vaccines that would leave children exposed to disease so there would be an increase in Measles, Mumps and Rubella leading to illness and possibly death.

At the moment we have the combined vaccine. It's also important to recognize that this is a two dose program. The second MMR is given between three and a half and five years. That's not a booster, the second dose is to ensure maximum uptake. If you're thinking of giving it separately … it would mean a total of six separate injections. Parents lives are busy …. we already have a problem with parents making sure their children have completed the course. Our concern is that it's not a good strategy to get children protected. It has been looked at but it was not a good option.

Can a babies immune system be overloaded with this 3-in-1 injection?
If you think about a baby being born, it's quite a traumatic thing. If you imagine the baby coming down the birth canal, they're exposed to thousands and millions of viruses and bacteria so if they did not have a good immune system they would not agree with that at all. All our babies are born with a really good immune system … so a baby already is born with some antibodies. If they come in contact with a virus or a bug … children are vulnerable. If you think about giving all these vaccines … the body is more than capable of coping. The MMR vaccine is three live viruses that have been weakened … once the vaccine is given the body has no problem with coping with it. It's a myth that we can overload the system.

Are there any side effects?
There are some mild side effects. Within about 10 days the Measles component of the vaccine starts to produce an immune response and at that time a child may have a high temperature, a fever, they also may develop a Measle type rash. That does not mean the child has Measles and it does not mean the child is infectious but it's just the way the vaccine works. Then the Rubella component starts to take effect so really through this phase the child may have a high fever because it's the way the immune system is responding to the vaccine. By about three weeks after, some children may develop some swing in the neck and again that is a symptom of Mumps but it's not infectious.