Doctor Denies Media Claims That MMR Vaccine Is Linked With Autism

      [By Fionnuala Quinlan in The Irish Examiner.]

      A prominent Irish doctor last night dismissed reports that research to
be published next month will prove a link between the MMR vaccine and
      Professor John O'Leary of Trinity College was responding to articles
in a number of British Sunday newspapers which claimed his research team had
found the strain of measles contained in the MMR vaccine in the stomachs of
children with both autism and bowel disorders.
      The reports suggested Dr O'Leary's study took the association between
MMR, autism and bowel disease - first mooted by Dr Andrew Wakefield in
1998 - a leap further.
      However, in a strongly-worded statement issued yesterday, Dr O'Leary
said his research details a new way of detecting strains of the measles
      "The research in no way establishes any link between the MMR vaccine
and autism," he said.
      "I wish to make it clear that I and my research team have consistently
advocated immunisation and the use of MMR to protect the nation's children
from measles, mumps and rubella."
      The pathologist said he had investigated children with autism and a
new form of inflammatory bowel disease, but added: "These children represent
only a minute fraction of children with autistic spectrum disorder. Neither
this publication nor any public presentation made by me or my research team
has stated that MMR causes autism."
      While the study found a biological association between the presence of
measles virus and new variant inflammatory bowel disease in the context of
autism, it did not conclude that the measles virus causes autism. The
measles virus is also found in children who are not autistic, he said, and
urged parents to immunise their children.
      Earlier this year, Dr O'Leary published research which found the
measles virus in the guts of 75 children with autism and bowel disease. The
newspapers reported that his new research identified the measles virus as
that which is contained in the MMR vaccine rather than the
naturally-occurring virus.
      Kathy Sinnott of the Hope Project last night said she was not
surprised at Dr O'Leary's statement as he has consistently maintained a
pro-immunisation stance.
      Both Dr O'Leary and Dr Andrew Wakefield told the Oireachtais hearings
that while they believe MMR is safe for the majority of children, screening
should be introduced to identify those who have auto-immune or
gastro-intestinal problems or a family history of adverse reaction to
vaccines, she said.
      "They have always stressed that they are not anti-vaccine, but raised
questions about the safety of the vaccine for susceptible children. They
never said that any research had found a link," she said.