One of the most widespread myths is that vaccines cause autism. This myth started in 1998, when former U.K. doctor Andrew Wakefield published a study in The Lancet suggesting that autism might be triggered by MMR vaccines against measles, mumps, and rubella.
The result was an 80% drop in the rate of 2-year-olds in England who received MMR vaccines over the next few years.
The myth unraveled in 2004, when journalists discovered that Wakefield failed to disclose a major conflict of interest: He had applied for a patent on his own measles vaccine.
Wakefield was also being paid by lawyers who were filing lawsuits against the manufacturers of MMR vaccines for downplaying side effects.
Citing ethical concerns, The Lancet retracted Wakefield’s paper in 2010. Soon afterward, Wakefield was permanently stripped of his medical license by the U.K. General Medical Council, so he fled to Texas to continue his anti-vaccination campaign in the United States.
In 2016, Wakefield directed a movie, Vaxxed, accusing the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of covering up evidence that the MMR vaccine could increase the risk of autism in black children.
The CDC says the association was not because vaccines were causing autism. Instead, children who already had autism were also more likely to have received vaccines as a requirement of attending special education preschools.
The reality is that no large, well-controlled studies have found any association between MMR vaccines and autism. One of the largest of those studies was published in 2014 by the journal Vaccine and involved data on 1.3 million people. According to the researchers:
“Vaccinations are not associated with the development of autism or autism spectrum disorder. Furthermore, the components of the vaccines (thimerosal or mercury) or multiple vaccines (MMR) are not associated with the development of autism or autism spectrum disorder.”
Furthermore, another study in 2014 found no difference in autism rates for vaccinated and un-vaccinated children.
Today, there is still no scientific evidence linking the MMR vaccine with autism or autistic disorders. If you have questions about the safety of vaccines, ask your doctor and check accurate websites for more information.