I have encountered several instances lately of people refusing to allow their children to have the MMR vaccination because of the apparent link between MMR and Aspergers Syndrome.
The MMR Vaccine was introduced in the UK in 1988, and it was a welcome relief given that the year before, a localised Measles outbreak had killed 17 children. The chap responsible for the vaccine was Dr. Maurice Hileman, who can only be described as an unsung hero. Dr Hileman was a US based researcher who is responsible for nine out of the 14 recommended vaccines to control childhood illness, who spent over thirty years of his life perfecting and researching vaccines to protect children.
Hans Aspergers was another remarkable man. He was an Austrian Paediatrician who did most of his landmark research during the 1940’s having served as a medical officer in Croatia. During 1944 Asperger and his sister opened a small hospital for the study of people with what he then termed “Autistic Psychopathy”, but unfortunately the hospital was bombed before the end of the war and along with all his research, his sister was lost. For a number of reasons Aspergers research never fully recovered from these events. He continued in a slow methodical fashion for years afterwards, but his research and studies continued in scientific obscurity.
In 1981 a British researcher called Lorna Wing wrote a remarkable paper which not only challenged the accepted autistic model, but directly addressed the missing elements from the model. Up until this point it had been apparent that there were people with serious Autistic traits, but who could manage very high levels function and didn’t seem to have any early development problems with language, reading and writing. It was very clear in fact that something was amiss, and Lorna Wing’s paper addressed this – it was the first paper based on Has Aspergers research and she used his phrasing: Aspergers Syndrome.
Between 1981-1990, a great deal of research was carried out with regard to Hans Aspergers findings and they were proven conclusively. This lead to better diagnostic tools and the research also lead to the discovery of ADHD and several other social and personality disorders. By 1990 Aspergers Syndrome had key criteria which could be used for definitive diagnosis.
During the early 1990’s a couple gave birth to a child who was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. As parents are want to do, they searched for a cause, and having spoken to a few other parents it seemed that one of the things these children had in common was the relatively new MMR vaccine.
Within months a medical journal called Lancet published a research paper linking MMR to Autism and Aspergers Syndrome. The research paper was written by Dr. Andrew Wakefield. However the claims in the paper were not substantiated and it later transpired that Dr. Wakefield was in the pay of solicitors who were acting for parents who believed their children had been harmed by MMR.
The media of course didn’t help, and that lead to Dr.Wakefield’s findings being widely accepted by the public. And the sad truth is that a vaccination which was designed to save the lives of children became widely disparaged, and many children have gone untreated.
There is no link between the MMR and Autism or Aspergers Syndrome, it is that simple.
It is almost certain that Aspergers Syndrome has a genetic component, which leaves some people vulnerable to the condition, but by no means ensures the condition. The triggers the condition is now thought to occur in the womb, probably within the fist 20 weeks of pregnancy, which triggers some form of auto-immune reaction between mother and foetus which causes developmental factors that affect many or all functional brain systems, as opposed to localized effects. This isn’t damage as opposed to developmental change which ultimately results in what we call Aspergers Syndrome or in extreme cases Autism. These changes in development don’t appear to effect how well these systems work, but rather how they interact with each other and to some extent, which systems take priority over others.
A recent study using a brain-imaging technique called voxel-based morphometry was conducted at Kings College London. It was determined that people with Aspergers Syndrome appear to have substantially less grey matter in their medial temporal, fusiform and cerebellar regions and in their brainstem and cerebellar regions (the regions associated with facial recognition, emotions and reasoning, but it also showed increased activity in these areas far above normal. What is more, it showed that candidates who were diagnosed with Autism had much more grey matter in their frontal and temporal lobe regions; something which the Aspie patients didn’t have, confirming conclusively that they are indeed separate (but related) conditions.
These interesting findings suggest increased efficiency in brain activity in some areas, but but also some missing or imapired neural functions. It is also worth mentioning at this point that their are a growing group of researchers who believe that Aspergers Syndrome and Autism are not necessarily diseases or disabilities, but simply a natural way of being, whether that involves evolution and mother-nature experimenting or a natural progression of human development is unclear. I am unsure if I subscribe to this particular theory, but it is interesting nevertheless.
I have tried to keep this post as factual as possible, and I hope it helps make clear the evidence that not only does the MMR vaccine NOT increase the chances of Autism or Aspergers Syndrome, but that these conditions in themselves are slowly being understood and explained.
Are vaccines 100% safe? No probably not. All vaccines, indeed all medications have an inherent risk.There does seem to be a link between autism and mercury – specifically if your parents and/or grandparents where exposed to large doses. It is true that some vaccines use a mercury based preservative, but the MMR vaccine is NOT one of these
OK I shall step off my soap box now and I will put an end to this post, which is unusually serious, for which I apologise. I also apologise if this post has come across a little preachy, but there were some important points I felt needed to be covered.
Edit: Relevant links Added 12th January 2011 –