Autism Most Likely Not Caused by Vaccine

Friday, March 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The idea that the dramatic upsurge in autism over the last two decades was caused by the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, a concept embraced by many parents, is wrong, according to a report to be released Wednesday by the California Department of Health Services.

The study, like two others recently conducted in England and Finland, found that the rate of autism has been rising dramatically while the number of children vaccinated has remained virtually constant. This is convincing evidence, the researchers say, that the vaccine plays little or no role in the disease.

"We cannot rule out the possibility that in certain isolated, rare instances, the vaccine might have caused a rare case of autism," said Dr. Hershel Jick of Boston University Medical Center. "But it is certainly not the major villain."

Advocates of the autism-vaccine link dismiss the new reports, however, claiming bias on the part of their authors.

"I don't know why anyone would believe information that comes out of a branch whose sole purpose is to promote immunization in California," said Rick Rollens, a parent advocate who was instrumental in creating a California autism research institute.

And Dr. Bernard Rimland of the Autism Research Institute in San Diego argues that it is not the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine alone that may trigger autism, but the burden placed on the immune system by the 22 vaccines that children receive by their second birthdays.

Despite those qualms, the new findings seemingly put researchers back to square one in trying to unravel the causes for the surge in a once-rare disorder, which has increased by more than 500 percent during the last decade.

The new study, reported in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association, draws from extensive state health department records, concluding that while autism rose dramatically, vaccinations held basically steady.

Autism is a severe developmental disorder in which children seem isolated from the world around them. The condition is marked by poor language skills and an inability to handle social relations.

Most researchers are convinced that genetic susceptibility lies at the heart of the disorder, but it has become clear that a triggering agent in the environment plays a role.