A massive new study from Denmark found no association between being vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella and developing autism.

In science and public health circles, that issue has long since been considered settled, with multiple studies over many years discounting the findings of a small study published more than 20 years ago that has since been expunged from the medical literature.

But the size of this study — involving 657,461 Danish children born between 1999 and 2010 — should, in theory, bolster the argument that doctors and public health professionals still find themselves forced to make in the face of entrenched and growing resistance to vaccination in some quarters.

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The work, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was conducted by researchers at the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen. Some of the same scientists published an earlier article on this topic in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002, based on data from 537,303 Danish children born between 1991 and 1998.

Why redo the work? Because the misplaced concern hasn’t gone away, said Anders Hviid, one of the researchers involved in the study.

“The idea that vaccines cause autism is still going around. And the anti-vaxx movement, if anything, has perhaps only grown stronger over the last 15 years,” he told STAT. “The trend that we’re seeing is worrying.”

Six measles outbreaks are currently ongoing in the United States, with 206 cases reported in January and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That two-month total is higher than the entire year’s tally for 2017.

Measles outbreaks have also been reported in a number of other countries around the world. A French family with unvaccinated children recently brought the virus to Costa Rica. An outbreak in an Orthodox Jewish community in New York City was triggered by a case that contracted the virus in Israel. The World Health Organization’s European regional office reported there were more than 85,000 cases across the continent in 2018 and 72 measles deaths.

Washington state has spent more than $1.2 million trying to contain an outbreak there that to date has seen 71 people become infected. State Health Secretary John Wiesman is appearing Tuesday before the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to ask for more funding to help the country’s public health sector cope.

Among the things he plans to ask for: a 22 percent increase in funding for the CDC and a national information campaign to explain the value of vaccines.

The money is needed, he said, to ensure that “as the anti-vaccine movement has become so well organized, we are just really adequately prepared in getting out our message and to counter that.‘’

But will another study discounting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism make a difference? Not everyone is so sure.

In an editorial published with the study, Dr. Saad Omer of Emory University noted it’s important to think about opportunity costs when deciding to devote research time and money to further exploring such a well-mined issue, writing that “continuing to evaluate the MMR-autism hypothesis might come at the expense of not pursuing some of the more promising leads.”

(In an interview, Omer said he didn’t object to this particular study, which used existing data as opposed to data that had to be newly collected.)

He also wrote that evidence hasn’t won over the skeptics so far. “It has been said that we now live in a ‘fact-resistant’ world where data have limited persuasive value,” he said.

But Hviid said the size of this study allowed his group to look at some additional claims that are made about MMR vaccine — for example that children considered “at risk” of developing autism might be more likely to be diagnosed with the condition if they receive the vaccine. That argument is sometimes made about children who have a sibling with autism.

The Danish data, drawn from a national health registry, showed no increase in autism in this subset of children. Nor did it see an onset of autism symptoms clustered around the timing of the MMR vaccine receipt.

“We found no support for the hypothesis of increased risk for autism after MMR vaccination in … Danish children; no support for the hypothesis of MMR vaccination triggering autism in susceptible subgroups characterized by environmental and familial risk factors; and no support for a clustering of autism cases in specific time periods after MMR vaccination,” Hviid and his co-authors wrote.

Omer said the focus now needs to be on studies that make clear how best to persuade vaccine-hesitant parents that the vaccines are safe and in their children’s best interest. Progress is being made on figuring out how to effectively communicate with such parents, he said, noting they make up a larger group than the more vocal individuals who flatly reject vaccines.

“It’s an active area of research. But there are a lot of promising techniques that are coming online,” Omer said.

  • The only thing that is going to change minds is to study children with autism that haven’t been vaccinated.

  • One thing is that a parent plays out the scenario in their head. If they don’t vaccinate, and the child gets measles, there’s two weeks of misery. If they do vaccinate, and the child gets autism, this is a life time burden. Using this type of analysis, it makes sense not to vaccinate.

    • In 1980, 2.6 million people died of measles, and in 1990, 545,000 died; by 2014, global vaccination programs had reduced the number of deaths from measles to 73,000. Despite these trends, rates of disease and deaths increased from 2017 to 2019 due to a decrease in immunization.

      Measles isn’t considered a threat by parents because they don’t know how deadly it can be, but ignorance is poor solace for a parent with a dead child.

      Perhaps that can help re-balance the equation for you.

  • No matter how many times they keep redoing the study it’s going to keep saying the same thing over and over again. There is no tie between Autism and Vaccinations. Honestly, I don’t know why they bother anymore. The anti-vaxx / pro-disease community is NEVER going to believe it. Hell, a study the Anti-Vaxx community itself did, using independent researchers that were paid BY anti-vaxxers, not pharmaceutical industries, even said the same thing, there is NO LINK. And yet they refuse to believe even their OWN studies because it refuted their paranoia. So why bother with it anymore?

  • Kudos. Now if the Danish study looked at the autism rates in the subset of unvaccinated kids, compared to the rate in the vaccinated kids with and without the MMR we’d have something to talk about.
    This flimsy article doesn’t really dig into the study protocol so people who’ve done their research know its another sham. Curious who funded it? Dr Paul Thomas’ Quality Assurance study of 15,000 patients showed 1 case of autism amongst his 715 unvaccinated patients, 1 in 440 amongst his 2,640 patients on a slower more selective schedule they. CDC reports 1 in 59 in the general public have autism. We know the CDC knows the role vaccines play which is probably why they will never do the real study. The the media brands anybody who tries to do a real study to be an anti-vaxxer, no matter how credible. The total irony is that “the anti-vaxxers” are trying to help the pro vaxxers avoid harm, because many were pro vaxxers until a vaccine injured or killed their child. They already know the truth, they dont need a study because many of them stare into the eyes of a vaccine schedule test subject casualty on a daily basis. What happened to the news media? They’ve become propaganda shills.

    • @CN said “Now if the Danish study looked at the autism rates in the subset of unvaccinated kids, compared to the rate in the vaccinated kids with and without the MMR we’d have something to talk about.”

      Funny, that’s exactly what this study did. So did the earlier study in 2002 which said:

      “Of the 537,303 children in the cohort (representing 2,129,864 person-years), 440,655 (82.0 percent) had received the MMR vaccine. We identified 316 children with a diagnosis of autistic disorder and 422 with a diagnosis of other autistic-spectrum disorders. After adjustment for potential confounders, the relative risk of autistic disorder in the group of vaccinated children, as compared with the unvaccinated group, was 0.92 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.68 to 1.24), and the relative risk of another autistic-spectrum disorder was 0.83 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.65 to 1.07). There was no association between the age at the time of vaccination, the time since vaccination, or the date of vaccination and the development of autistic disorder.”

  • Here’s an analogy of the false logic of the study comparing measles to other vaccines for correlation to risk of autism.

    Researchers were interested to know if shampoo A caused hairless. So they obtained data on people who used shampoos A, B, C, D, E (shampooed) vs. people who used shampoos B, C, D, E (“unshampooed”). The risk of hair loss was slightly greater in the unshampooed group. So the researchers declared that there was no association between Shampoo A and hair loss. Oh, but they have no data on the risk of hair loss due to Shampoos B, and/or C, and/or D, and or E compared to a benign placebo shampoo.

    Ultimately the researchers declared that Shampoos do not cause hair loss.

    Substitutions
    Shampoo A = MMR vaccines
    Shampoo B, C, D, E non-MMR vaccines (unvaccinated ahahahhh)
    hair loss = autism

    • Kudos. Now if the Danish study looked at the autism rates in the subset of unvaccinated kids, compared to the rate in the vaccinated kids with and without the MMR we’d have something to talk about.
      This flimsy article doesn’t really dig into the study protocol so people who’ve done their research know its another sham. Curious who funded it? Dr Paul Thomas’ Quality Assurance study of 15,000 patients showed 1 case of autism amongst his 715 unvaccinated patients, 1 in 440 amongst his 2,640 patients on a slower more selective schedule they. CDC reports 1 in 59 in the general public have autism. We know the CDC knows the role vaccines play which is probably why they will never do the real study. The the media brands anybody who tries to be an anti-vaxxer, no matter how credible. The total irony is that “the anti-vaxxers” are trying to help the pro vaxxers avoid harm, because many were pro vaxxers until a vaccine injured or killed their child. They already know the truth, they dont need a study because many of them stare into the eyes of a vaccine schedule test subject casualty on a daily basis. What happened to the news media? They’ve become propaganda shills.

  • Where are the studies on the effects of aluminum in other vaccines on the brain? Studies in France and China show a definite connection in mice and humans

  • The individual files were not looked into. They don’t know if there were any other side effects. Poor study

    • @Dennis: this was a study on the correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism using a sample size of 650,000+. If you think this is a poor study you can’t really be helped.

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