Latest safety study the nail in the coffin for autism vaccine myth

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  Last updated March 8, 2019 at 4:05 pm

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The dangerous vaccine myth has been debunked, yet again, by a massive study of Danish children, providing reassurance to parents that the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism.


vaccine myth MMR doesn't cause autism

The vaccine myth that MMR vaccination causes autism has been debunked, again. Credit: Andrey Popov/Getty Images


Australian scientists hope that a Danish study released this week will finally put the myth of a link between MMR vaccines an autism to bed.


The study, which looked at all Danish kids born between 1999 and 2010; more than half a million in total, found no increase in the risk of autism in vaccinated kids, even in those with other autism risk factors.


“Among other things, we have looked at children with autistic siblings, because we know that they have an increased risk of developing autism themselves,” said lead author Anders Hviid from the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen.


An enduring criticism of previous work had been that it failed to examine subgroups of children considered to be at a high risk for autism. The study directly examined this concern and is the latest in a long line of research to show no link between vaccines and autism. It also showed no link and no clustering of autism cases following vaccination.


Putting the myth to bed once and for all


Dr Helen Petousis-Harris from the University of Auckland said she hoped this study put to bed the notion that MMR might trigger autism in susceptible subgroups of children.


“The coffin is both nailed and superglued shut then hermetically sealed,” she said.


The findings were also welcomed by Australian experts including Professor Ian Fraser AC, from the University of Queensland, one of the co-developers of the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer.


“It should further reassure parents and prospective parents that MMR vaccination is safe,” he said.


Despite several studies over the past 20 years repeating this finding, the vaccine-autism link persists in the anti-vaxxer movement.


Dr Katie Flanagan, from the University of Tasmania hoped the study would mean researchers can now “get on with the important goal of eradicating this deadly disease once and for all.”


People will cling to false beliefs in face of evidence


But an accompanying editorial by Dr Saad Ome from Emory University warns that evidence probably won’t be enough to convince some, a concern shared by some Australian scientists:


“Sadly, there will still be those who cling to conspiracy theories or coincidental evidence that confirms their fears or suspicions,” said Dr James Donnelly, a researcher in Psychology at Southern Cross University.


Social media continues to be one way that vaccine myths endure and spread and the Director of the Australian National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, Professor Kristine Macartney encouraged worried parents to instead seek advice from reliable sources and qualified health professionals.


Dr Ome suggests doctors advising patients should also take a page from the ‘Debunking Handbook’ developed by Australian researchers, John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky. The Handbook includes some simple steps to debunking misinformation including limiting mentions of the myth itself, focusing on a few key facts and presenting an alternative explanation.


“Continuing to evaluate the MMR-autism myth when it has already been thoroughly debunked, will come at the expense of not pursuing other important research to better understand and prevent autism,” said Professor Macartney


You can read the full expert reaction here


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About the Author

Lyndal Byford
Lyndal is the Director of News and Partnerships at the Australian Science Media Centre. She spends her days turning complex science papers into tasty morsels to help news journalists cover science. Lyndal has an Honours Degree in Biotechnology from Flinders University and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication from the Australian National University. She has spent the last 20 years communicating science in a range of settings including science museums, within the pharmaceutical industry and in media relations both here and in the UK. Lyndal regularly speaks about science on ABC Radio National and 2CC in Canberra. Lyndal was also a member of Inspiring Australia’s Science and the Media Expert working group for the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

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The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) is an independent, not-for-profit service for the news media, giving journalists direct access to evidence-based science and expertise. We aim to better inform public debate on the major issues of the day by improving links between the media and the scientific community. The Centre works with journalists to help them cover science as well as identify the science angles in everyday news stories and works with the scientific community to help them interact more effectively with the media and ensure that their voices are heard on issues of national importance.


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