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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Medical Institute Set to Determine if Vaccines Really Cause Autism

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"I cannot conclusively say that I have found a fundamental cause," Singh tells WebMD. "But this is good science. It should not be ignored."

Still, the majority of experts disagree. They say the time-based association is coincidental and that autism is a genetic disease that is triggered by some other environmental factor during the first three months of pregnancy.

In fact, there is absolute proof that the MMR vaccine is not a cause of autism, says Paul Offit, MD, a pediatrician and chief of infectious disease at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. The incidence of autism is really no greater whether children receive the vaccine or not, he explains. And although the diagnosis is often made around age 2, trained experts frequently can identify autistic children at a much earlier age, he tells WebMD.

As for the increase in the number of reported cases, Offit points out that U.S. and U.K. recently adopted a broader definition of autism that seems to be capturing a larger number of cases.

And as for Wakefield's bowel theory, Offit observes that Wakefield failed to study the children who got the vaccine but didn't develop autism when he developed his theory -- even though those children often exhibit the same bowel symptoms.

Despite being confident that the MMR vaccine is not a trigger for autism, Offit and his peers are concerned about the scheduled IOM review. "This is not a sound scientific process," Offit tells WebMD. "What bothers me is that this process tends to be political."

The possible connection between the MMR vaccine and autism has generated a lot of political attention. It also has managed to capture the imagination of at least one powerful Republican in Congress -- Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, whose grandson is autistic.

Burton, who chairs the powerful House Government Reform Committee, is believed to be the root-cause behind this IOM review. In April, Burton held an emotionally charged congressional hearing, during which he explicitly stated his belief that there is a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

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