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National Academies news: vaccines and autism

WASHINGTON -- Based on a thorough review of clinical and epidemiological studies, neither the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal nor the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine are associated with autism, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Furthermore, the hypotheses regarding how the MMR vaccine and thimerosal could trigger autism lack supporting evidence and are theoretical only. Further research to find the cause of autism should be directed toward other lines of inquiry that are supported by current knowledge and evidence and offer more promise for providing an answer, said the committee that wrote the report.

"The overwhelming evidence from several well-designed studies indicates that childhood vaccines are not associated with autism," said committee chair Marie McCormick, Sumner and Esther Feldberg Professor of Maternal and Child Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston. "We strongly support ongoing research to discover the cause or causes of this devastating disorder. Resources would be used most effectively if they were directed toward those avenues of inquiry that offer the greatest promise for answers. Without supporting evidence, the vaccine hypothesis does not hold such promise."

The report updates two earlier IOM reports, published in 2001, on possible links between autism and the MMR vaccine and thimerosal. At that time, the committee determined that the evidence did not show an association between the MMR vaccine and autism, but there was not enough evidence to determine whether thimerosal was associated with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. Given that mercury is known to have a toxic effect on the nervous system and that prenatal exposures to another form of mercury have been shown to adversely affect early childhood development, the committee concluded in 2001 that it was possible to hypothesize that thimerosal might trigger neurodevelopmental problems. The
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Contact: Christine Stencel
news@nas.edu
202-334-2138
The National Academies
18-May-2004


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