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National Academies news: vaccines and autism

committee revisited these issues because several studies exploring the epidemiology and biological mechanisms of possible links between vaccines and autism have been undertaken during the past three years.

The committee based its latest conclusions and recommendations on a careful review of the literature it had assessed to develop its previous reports; subsequent studies; and other information provided by researchers, parents, and others. Epidemiological studies that looked at autism rates and exposures to vaccines carried the most weight in the committee's assessment of causality, but it considered other kinds of studies as well.

Five large epidemiological studies conducted in the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Sweden since 2001 consistently provided evidence that there is no association between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism. Similarly, 14 large epidemiological studies consistently showed no association between the MMR vaccine and autism. The committee also reviewed five studies that reported links between thimerosal and autism and two that indicated a connection between the MMR vaccine and the disorder. However, limitations in how these studies were conducted and how the data were analyzed led the committee to conclude that they did not provide evidence supporting an association between vaccines and autism.

The committee also reviewed evidence related to possible biological mechanisms by which immunizations might trigger autism. For example, it has been hypothesized that the measles virus in the MMR vaccine might lodge in the intestines and trigger the release of toxins that lead to autism. Another hypothesis suggests that the MMR vaccine might stimulate the release of immune factors that damage the central nervous system, resulting in autism. It also has been suggested that thimerosal may interfere with biochemical systems in the brain, leading to the disorder.

However, no evidence has yet be
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Contact: Christine Stencel
news@nas.edu
202-334-2138
The National Academies
18-May-2004


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