New fears over MMR jab after massive rise in child autism

Number of sufferers has more than quadrupled in only seven years

By Graham Grant
Home Affairs Editor
Scottish Daily Mail
Wednesday March 1, 2006         (Not on line).

The true scale of childhood autism was revealed yesterday as official
figures showed an explosion in the number of cases.

Last year, 3,484 schoolchildren in Scotland were registered as autistic
compared to only 820 in 1998.  In 2002, the figure was 2,204.

The statistics lay bare the rise of the brain disorder, which affects
children's ability to learn and communicate.

They also raised further questions over the safety of the MMR triple vaccine.

It combats measles, mumps and rubella and has been linked by some experts
to the increased incidence of autism in young children.  The vaccine has
been boycotted by many parents, who fear the jab could cause irreversible
damage to their children's brains - despite ministers' repeated claims that
it is safe.

Campaigners said Scotland was in the grip of an autism epidemic and called
for more research to probe the link between MMR and 'autism spectrum

The figures showed many more boys (2,998) than girls (486) are affected.
There were 1,736 cases in primary schools, 825 in secondaries and 923 in
special schools.
The bleak picture of childhood autism emerged in a 'pupil census' by
Scottish Executive researchers.

Last night, ministers sought to explain the rise in autism by citing
greater awareness of the condition and more accurate diagnoses than ever
But campaigners accused the Executive of failing to carry out enough
research into the condition and its possible links with MMR, which has
contributed to a fall in take-up rates of the triple jab.

Figures suggest the Scottish take-up rate is 88 percent, far short of the
official target of 95 percent.

The low take-up has been liked with a surge in mumps cases in recent years.

Last night, Bill Welsh of Action Against Autism said: 'Scotland is in the
grip of a huge autism epidemic.  It seems ministers want to talk about
every imaginable issue affecting children other than autism.  In 1990, it
would have been rare for a doctor to see a single case of autism in his
career but that is no longer the case'.

'The Executive is simply not investigating why this has happened because it
doesn't want to jeopardise immunisation.  This refusal to do more for the
plight of these children is the most shameful episode in Scottish public
health history.'

'The fact is that MMR jabs are deeply implicated in what is happening to a
proportion of these children.'

Yesterday's figures came after Tory leader David Cameron reignited the row
over MMR by demanding that single vaccines be made available on the NHS.
Mr Cameron said his new-born son Arthur would be given the triple jab and
that his other children, Nancy, two, and three year old Ivan, who is
disabled had already had it.

But he added: 'Where parents insist that their children won't have the MMR
vaccine, it's wrong for the Government to rule out completely the
possibility of giving them a single vaccine on the NHS - especially if the
vaccination rates continue to fall.'

His comments intensified the pressure on Tony Blair to reveal if his five
year old son Leo has had the triple jab.

The Prime Minister has been accused of contributing to public uncertainty
by refusing to say where he has or not.

Chancellor Gordon Brown recently made it clear his two year old son, John
has had it.

Last night, an Executive spokesman attempted to play down fears of an
autism epidemic caused by the triple vaccine.

She said: 'The rise in cases can be explained by better identification and
awareness of the issues surrounding autism.'

'There were pupils before who were not being diagnosed with autism but were
suffering from it - so the fact it is now recognised that these children do
have problems is good news for those pupils, because it means they can be
treated properly.