A decade after the safety of the MMR vaccine first hit the limelight a new study – published in the Archive of Diseases of Childhood and reportedly the most comprehensive ever undertaken - has found no link between the vaccine and autism.

Public confidence in the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine took a massive hit in the late 1990s after research published in the Lancet suggested a potential link between its use and the development of autism, even though the study’s credibility was later called into question as it emerged that the author, Dr Andrew Wakefield, was working covertly for an organisation preparing a class action over alleged side-effects from the vaccine.

Several studies since have failed to uncover a concrete relationship between the jab and autism, and this latest research - conducted by the Health Protection Agency, Guys Hospital and Manchester University and part-funded by the Department of Health - could prove to be the final nail in the coffin, burying suspicion over the vaccine’s safety once and for all.

The study looked at blood samples of 240 children who were split into three groups of those with autism, those with autism and special educational needs, and those developing normally, to investigate whether the MMR vaccine induced an abnormal immune response that may have caused autism.

But the researchers found no differences in immune response between the three groups, adding further ballast to the substantial body of evidence supporting the safety of the vaccine. “The study found no evidence linking MMR to autistic spectrum disorder and the paper adds to the overwhelming body of evidence from around the world supporting the use of MMR,” commented the HPA’s David Brown.

Reassuring parents
Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the DH, has welcomed the findings. "It's natural for parents to worry about the health and well-being of their children and I hope that this study will reassure them that there is no evidence linking the MMR vaccine to autism," he said.

According to the DH, MMR vaccines such GlaxoSmithKline’s Priorix and Sanofi-Pasteur’s Trimovax have been used “extensively and safely” worldwide for nearly 30 years, and are recognised by the World Health Organisation as having an “outstanding safety record”.