Expert says MMR autism link will be proved this year

Kate Foster Health Correspondent
March 2002

A DEFINITIVE link between MMR and autism will be confirmed this year, the scientist who first raised the alarm on the safety of the vaccine claimed yesterday.

As health officials across Scotland prepared for a possible measles epidemic following the first confirmed cases of the virus in two years, Dr Andrew Wakefield, whose original work prompted fears that the triple jab could be responsible for rising cases of autism in children, said two research papers to be published in the next two months would reveal further details of a connection between bowel disease and autism.

In a rare interview, he also issued a stark warning to members ofScotland's expert group on immunisation, which is due to report on the safety of MMR, that they each risk legal action if they do not recommend single vaccines are made available to parents on request.

Last week, an adult and two children in Fife were diagnosed with measles, in
Scotland's first cases of the disease for two years. A further 24 suspected
cases are being investigated in Scotland and five in Teesside.

Dr Wakefield said: "Despite the re-emergence of measles in England and
Scotland, my original study is justified.

"Parents came to us with questions that we were obliged to answer, and the
studies that we have done have borne out their concerns. Not only that the
children have had bowel disease that had gone undetected, but we have now
confirmed the presence of the measles virus within the bowel.

"We will go on publishing on this until the end of our careers. We are
putting together the pieces of the jigsaw."

He added: "There is no definitive piece of science, so we are putting
together the pieces and a picture is emerging. And it is extremely

In a recent study, Dr Wakefield and his colleagues established that children
with bowel disease were much more likely to have measles virus in their gut
cells. They found the virus in 83 per cent of gut samples from children with
autism and bowel disorders, but in only 7 per cent of other children.

The researchers suggested that the virus may act as an immunological trigger,
but stressed that no conclusions about the role of MMR could be drawn from
the findings.

Dr Wakefield added: "There are several papers coming out next month and the
month after which confirm a link between the mechanism of the bowel and the

"I think there will be a definitive answer on autism and MMR this year. It
would be nice to see this issue resolved. It is not an easy one for anyone."

Dr Wakefield was asked to leave his post at London's Royal Free Hospital
because of his controversial findings.

He is now a trustee of Visceral, the only charity in Europe dedicated to
raising funds to investigate possible links between childhood vaccines and
autism and bowel disease.

Dr Wakefield also believes that as the evidence against MMR grows and
increasing numbers boycott the vaccine, health officials risk legal action
from parents denied the single measles jab.

He said: "If there is a measles epidemic and single vaccines are not made
available and that decision turns out to be wrong because an unvaccinated
child dies, there is going to be legal liability on behalf of individual
members of that committee."

The Department of Health said the latest scientific evidence showed no link
between MMR and long-term problems such as autism and inflammatory bowel