There’s no issue that divides parents quite like vaccination. While the vast majority of Australian parents immunise their children, claims it can lead to autism have scared off a very vocal minority. But now scientists claim to have found beyond doubt that no such link exists.
University of Sydney researchers studied worldwide data from more than one million children and concluded there was no link between common vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, and the development of autism.
Sydney Medical School Associate Professor Guy Eslick tells news.com.au he started the study after watching documentaries on the controversial debate and then learning no one had put the data together. According to his team’s findings, published in medical journal Vaccine, the risks associated with immunisations amount to no more than rashes and allergic reactions, but even those are uncommon.
“There has been enormous debate regarding the possibility of a link between these commonly used and safe childhood vaccinations and the supposed development of autism,” Prof Eslick says. “The data consistently shows the lack of evidence for an association between autism, autism spectrum disorders and childhood vaccinations… providing no reason to avoid immunisation on these grounds.”
British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield first linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism in a 1998 paper that has since been discredited, after his research was found to be fraudulent. But many anti-vaccination lobbyists such as Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network still quote his research or other studies that support their views. “He is viewed by the anti-vaccination lobby as a demigod (but) we don’t know what causes autism,” Prof Eslick says.
He says he has no vested interest in the debate but merely wanted to shed light on an issue with major public health ramifications. “The increase in parents deciding not to vaccinate their children has substantially decreased herd immunity among populations, subsequently increasing the risk of catching potentially more serious infectious diseases,” he says.
Prof Estlick says vaccine-preventable diseases are rising because of scaremongering linking immunisation and autism. “This is especially concerning given the fact that there have been eleven measles outbreaks in the US since 2000, and NSW also saw a spike in measles infections from early 2012 to late 2012,” he says.
Australian Childhood Immunisation Register figures show ninety-two per cent of Australian five-year-olds were fully immunised as at December 31 last year. Queensland leads the way, with almost ninety-three per cent of five-year-olds vaccinated, while Western Australia had the lowest immunisation rate of just under eighty-nine per cent.