MMR vaccine link to autism hypothesised

Pulse Magazine - United Kingdom

7 July 2001 Pulse magazine

By Shaoni Bhattacharya

 Autism may be triggered by MMR vaccine in a subgroup of children genetically predisposed to immunological problems, new unpublished research suggests.  The research has led to a hypothesis that mothers who fail to develop protective antibodies when they themselves are vaccinated with MMR may have an immune problem which predisposes their children to autism.  The study postulates that autism might then be triggered by an ‘immune insult’ like giving MMR or another live vaccine to the child.  Alternatively, a live vaccine booster, given inadvertently to the mother during pregnancy, could cause autism via a teratogenic effect on the fetus.  The hypothesis has been described as biologically plausible by a former medical assessor to the UK Committee on Safety of Medicines and a key official at the US Center for Disease Control.

Dr Edward Yazbak, a retired US paediatrician, has presented preliminary results of his study to a conference of the authoritative American Academy of Pediatrics.

The controversial findings are due to be published later this year.  Dr Yazbak contacted 400 members of vaccine and parent groups using the internet and newsletters in the UK, Australia and the US.  He asked all mothers who had received an MMR or rubella booster after the age of 16, because of a failure to seroconvert to an earlier dose, to complete a questionnaire.

His final results reveal that among women revaccinated with MMR or any other live vaccine just before, during or after pregnancy, 76 per cent had one or more child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

A further 17 per cent of these women went on to have children with autistic tendencies, severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and significant developmental delays.

Dr Yazbak said: ‘The vaccine from the mother and the immune predisposition of the mother are predisposing factors for the child.

‘Then the child has its own vaccine which is a precipitating factor - except where the mother is revaccinated (during or before conception) when the child is damaged from birth.’

He added: ‘This is a very unscientific study. I’m just saying “listen, this is something worth pursuing”.

Dr Peter Fletcher, who was principal medical officer and medical assessor to the CSM during the 1970’s, said the hypothesis was plausible.  He said: ‘It’s certainly something the immunologists should have a better look at.’

Dr Robert Chen, chief of vaccines safety and development at the US National Immunisation Programme at the Center for Disease Control said: ‘It’s an interesting hypothesis in the sense that wild rubella is known to be one of the risk factors of autism. This is one of the true causes of autism, which has been well documented.’

But he said this would not explain why the same effect may be seen in women revaccinated soon after giving birth.

Dr Yazbak said one explanation might be that the viruses from vaccines could be passed to the infant via breast milk.