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Vaccine Linked to Autism?

Link dismissed between MMR vaccine and autism.

WebMD Feature

Eric Gallup was a normally developing 15-month-old toddler living in Parsippany, New Jersey, when his parents took him for his first measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination in 1986. Shortly after he was vaccinated, they noticed changes in his behavior and ability to communicate. In 1989 he was diagnosed with autism.

Unlike the vast majority of MMR-vaccinated children, Eric had a serious reaction to the vaccine, his parents say. The Gallups are not alone in their belief that the MMR vaccine led to their child's autism. In both the United States and the United Kingdom, parents are pushing for research into a possible link between autism and childhood vaccination.

Autism, a developmental disability, is characterized by problems in social interaction and communication and by the need for sameness or repetition in behavior. It is usually identified in toddlers and is diagnosed more frequently in boys than in girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The cause of autism remains a mystery, with most scientists believing that it may be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Barbara Loe Fisher, the parent of an autistic child and co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center, believes that some cases of what she terms the "regressive" form of autism may be linked to the MMR vaccine. She says regressive autism is characterized by a sudden developmental downturn in a child who had previously been developing normally. The National Vaccine Information Center is a nonprofit educational organization in Vienna, Virginia, established by parents whose children were injured or died following vaccination.

Fisher's belief is based on the research of Paul Shattock, OBE, a biochemist-pharmacist who is founder of the Autism Research Unit at the University of Sunderland, England, and is also a parent of an autistic child. It is also based on the research of a few other scientists who believe there may be a correlation between autism and MMR vaccination.

What Does the Medical Establishment Believe?

The CDC, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Working Party on MMR Vaccine of the United Kingdom's Committee on the Safety of Medicines have dismissed any correlation of MMR vaccination to autism as baseless. However, the CDC is currently conducting a study in metropolitan Atlanta to evaluate any possible association between the vaccination and autism. Results are expected some time this year.

Parents Point to Research

Many parents, such as Fisher and Shattock, who maintain that they witnessed sudden, unmistakable physical and emotional deterioration in their children following MMR vaccination, point to a small body of research showing certain immunological and neurological irregularities in many autistic children that may be linked to MMR.

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