MMR safety tests flawed and invalid

Sunday Herald, UK, 14 October 2001

By Sarah-Kate Templeton Health Editor

A new study into children who were allegedly damaged by the MMR vaccine claims safety tests for the triple jab were massively inadequate. The study shows that children who developed autism after receiving the MMR vaccine did so on average two and a half years after their jab. But doctors checked children for reactions for only three to six weeks after vaccination before giving the go-ahead to licensing the controversial treatment for use in the UK in 1988.


The authors of the new research, published in the Journal of Adverse Drug Reactions, argue that studies into the vaccine’s safety should monitor children for at least three years.

Professor Walter Spitzer, professor of epidemiology at McGill University in Canada, and Scottish child psychologist Dr Ken Aitken, state: ‘Virtually none of the cases would have been classified if followed for only six weeks after immunisation.’

Their report concludes: ‘The key finding of the survey is the delay between exposure to MMR and the emergence of autistic symptoms, or the delay to definitive diagnosis of an autistic syndrome.

‘The average we report for diagnosis is 2.5 years. That means the assumptions about delay in many published articles and safety assessments are invalid.

‘The findings reported here warrant repeating prospective and historical safety studies or undertaking them for the first time in most countries. Such studies should be planned with adequate length of follow-up, i.e. at least three years following MMR vaccinations.’

Critics of government studies into the safety of the MMR have always insisted that the vaccine was not tested over a long enough period. In an earlier paper in the same journal, senior clinicians, including a former medicines regulator at the department of health, said that the decision to license the vaccine in 1988 was premature. They argued that patients should have been followed up for at least a year rather than a few weeks.

Professor Spitzer, who was the lead author of the study, said: ‘This shows that if you are only following up for around six weeks, it is grossly inappropriate to then say there is no connection. Any follow-up of less than three years makes the evidence inadmissible. It means that some of the studies cited to argue that there is no relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism are based on inappropriate data. This shows that they are flawed.’

Campaigners against the MMR vaccine say the McGill University study shows that previous research into the vaccine’s safety was inadequate.

David Thrower, who believes his son’s autism is a result of receiving the triple vaccine, said: ‘This suggests that all the safety tests of MMR, and the studies that ‘prove’ there is no link between MMR and the subsequent degeneration into autism, are flawed and invalid.

‘Such studies have all been confined either to a follow-up period of several weeks, or have only followed up for longer those children with an immediate reaction. It is this failure to recognise the slowness of degeneration that is the key to understanding what has happened.’

Bill Welsh, the chairman of Action on Autism, said: ‘This scientific work acknowledges the evidence of parents that a child’s withdrawal into the autistic spectrum following MMR is a slow, gradual, insidious process. The time-scale of a child’s retreat can be months or even years, which makes a mockery of the safety trials which were carried out prior to licensing.

‘More research along these lines must be urgently funded by governments in order that this tragic episode can be brought to an end.’

The Scottish Executive and the British Medical Association maintain that the MMR vaccine is safe.

But last night Professor David Goldberg, deputy director of the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health, agreed that if studies into the alleged link between the MMR vaccine and autism were carried out, children should be monitored for a longer period.

He said: ‘If studies into a possible association between MMR and autism were being conducted then it would be appropriate to look at the health of the child immediately after the vaccine but also over a longer period.’