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MMR and autism: the story that won’t go away

Reading time: 14 minutes

In the UK, uptake of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) triple vaccine is now at a 10-year low, with just 85.5 percent of 5-year-olds receiving their two jabs, according to data recently released by the UK Health Security Agency. Newspapers like The Guardian claim that one in 10 children will now be unprotected from measles.

And even before Covid lit up the dashboard, measles outbreaks in the US were frequently in the news, along with much handwringing from health officials about “vaccine hesitancy” and the growing aversion for childhood vaccines at the root of the problem. 

But the one issue at the heart of parents’ hesitancy that won’t go away is the question of whether the MMR triple shot causes autism. Behind this is the common-sense question of why autism rates have gone from one in 2,000 to one in 45 or less in less than 40 years.

The latest studies by various governmental health agencies around the world vehemently dispute any association between autism and the MMR vaccine. 

Just before the Covid pandemic, a nationwide cohort study of 657,461 children born in Denmark between 1999 and 2010 by the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen was published, which used Danish population registries to link information on MMR vaccination and autism diagnoses among the 6,517 children in the cohort.  

The researchers’ overall conclusion: “The chances of developing autism were the same in children who received the MMR vaccine and those who did not.” Similarly, they found “no increased risk for autism” after MMR vaccination in children with a sibling history of autism or other risk factors and among those who’d had other childhood vaccinations.  

In fact, the study concluded that children who got the MMR were 7 percent less likely to be diagnosed with autism than those who didn’t get the shot.1

Nevertheless, the study admitted it had certain limitations: no medical charts were reviewed, and the children were only checked up to a year after vaccination.   

There was also the fact that the study was funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the majority shareholder of Novo Nordisk, a drug company currently in talks about including vaccines in its stable. 

Two years later in 2021, the Italian equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control and the Italian Medicine Agency carried out a meta-analysis of 138 published studies, 87 of which examined the association between the MMR (some preparations including a chickenpox, or varicella jab) and the potential for harm.  

The study concluded that while evidence supported an association between these various MMR shots and other conditions like seizure and thrombocytopenic purpura (characterized by a decrease in blood platelets), again there was no evidence of an association between MMR and either autism or inflammatory bowel disease, the original side-effect claimed by gastroenterologist Dr. Andrew Wakefield in 1998 (see box, page 39).2  

So that would seem to settle the argument, wouldn’t it, particularly as thimerosal, a mercury derivative long targeted as responsible for autism cases, was removed from most childhood vaccines in 2001?

But these results belie the boots-on-the-ground experience of many parents who have witnessed a sudden and catastrophic decline in the development of their child immediately following an MMR vaccination. 

Thousands of parents, belonging to groups like JABS in the UK, or speaking to the parents’ organization Vaxxed in the US, continue to describe how their children “regressed”—lost vocabulary and motor skills and detached socially—immediately following the MMR vaccine injection. 

Typically, they report sudden fits and seizures, high fevers, gastrointestinal problems and the loss of motor and verbal skills; a previously happy and outgoing child often becomes withdrawn and starts behaving strangely. 

A survey of around 9,000 parents in California and Oregon found a strong association between the vaccination and a range of neurological disorders such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and autism. According to the telephone survey, which targeted the families of both vaccinated and unvaccinated boys, those who had been vaccinated were, on average, two-and-a-half times more likely to have some neurological disorder compared with the boys who had not been vaccinated; they were also 224 percent more likely to have ADHD, and 61 percent more likely to be diagnosed as autistic.3

But a telephone survey isn’t a true scientific trial, any more than a population survey is. So how does a parent find the truth? For most, it requires following a trail of breadcrumbs, in many cases through hidden documents and censorship.

Take, for instance, a widely quoted 2004 study in the journal Pediatrics, carried out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which was conducted to settle lingering questions over the MMR and claimed to refute a link between the jab and autism, once and for all.4 

Ten years later, one of the study authors, top CDC scientist William Thompson, admitted that he and his colleagues colluded to suppress data, which showed quite the opposite conclusion:  an increase in autism among African-American boys who’d received the MMR vaccine at younger ages. 

“Oh my God, I can’t believe we did what we did,” Thompson confessed in one taped telephone chat to Brian Hooker, a bioengineering professor at Simpson University and the father of an autistic child who’d repeatedly hit a stone wall when asking the CDC for their raw data on the MMR and autism.

Thompson, a senior scientist at the agency, approached Hooker because he said that he was feeling guilty about what had been done and his role in concealing the data for 10 years.

During multiple phone calls, Thompson revealed the statistical jiggery-pokery: the total cohort was honed to include only those individuals who possessed a valid State of Georgia birth certificate, thus excluding 41 percent the African Americans originally included and skewing the final results to make it appear that the vaccine carried minimal risk.

In later testimony given to Florida Congressman William Posey, Thompson claimed all the researchers were ordered to suppress data from the 2004 study by two senior executives at the CDC. Furthermore, said Thompson, the study authors asked all the researchers involved in the study to come to a meeting, where they were supposed to dump all relevant study data into a giant garbage can.  

Assuming that would be illegal and violate Freedom of Information Act and Department of Justice requests, Thompson testified: “I kept hard copy of all documents in my office and I retain all computer files.”

Thompson sent Hooker thousands of photocopied pages of the original study data.

When Hooker reanalyzed the study with all the data intact, he confirmed Thompson’s allegations, finding that African-American boys were 3.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with autism if they received the MMR at less than three years of age .5  

The Thompson whistleblower case is the basis of the 2016 documentary, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe.

Congressman Posey called for an investigation of the CDC scientists involved in the study to determine whether they had committed fraud, but the government never investigated Thompson’s testimony, and Pediatrics journal has never retracted the study.

The next breadcrumb to follow has to do with documents obtained in 2019 after a Freedom of Information Act request by the Children’s Health Defense for the results of the studies the FDA relied upon to license one version of the MMR vaccine.6

When pharmaceutical giant Merck submitted that MMR vaccine for approval in 1978, the FDA based its license on just six studies of less than 800 children. 

The studies compared various preparations of the MMR to the measles, the measles-rubella or the rubella jabs; others just compared different formulations of the MMR.

Each study recorded a substantial percentage of children suffering gastrointestinal (GI) illness: in the first study of 199 children, 22 children, or more than 10 percent; in another study of 53 children, 18 children, or more than 30 percent. One measles-rubella vaccine included in the analysis caused such symptoms in 19 of 47 children, a rate of over 40 percent. 

Of course, a novel GI illness was exactly what Dr Andrew Wakefield, the discredited gastroenterologist, first reported all along .

Wakefield’s study

In 1998, Dr Andrew Wakefield first described a possible connection between the MMR shot and autism with the publication, in The Lancet medical journal, of a case study involving 12 previously healthy children who’d developed severe gastrointestinal disorders after receiving the vaccine. 

In all the cases, the children had been developing normally when they suddenly lost their speech and other skills. Eight of the 12 developed autistic symptoms within 14 days of receiving their MMR jab. 

Five of the children had severe reactions, including fever, rash, delirium or seizures. Most significantly, all 12 had intestinal abnormalities, with 11 showing patchy, chronic inflammation of the colon, seven exhibiting abnormal growths of small nodules of lymphoid tissue and two suffering from thrushlike ulcers plus huge swellings in their bowels, according to Wakefield.1 Thirteen other doctors involved in the study also reported that they had encountered 48 similar cases to those in the published series. 

Wakefield, the lead author and at the time a well-respected gastroenterologist practicing at the Royal Free Hospital in London, stopped short of blaming the MMR for the conditions, but recommended children receive separate jabs for the different diseases until further study could be completed.

Since that time, Wakefield has been publicly vilified in the press and elsewhere, and in 2010, he and a former colleague from the Royal Free Hospital were found guilty of misconduct by the General Medical Council (GMC), the UK’s medical disciplinary body. Both Wakefield and Dr John Walker-Smith were stripped of their medical licenses. 

The charges were mainly related to perceived nondisclosure of potential conflict of interest: Wakefield was lead investigator of a study of these novel GI symptoms and autism, but his study had been commissioned by a lawyer funded by Legal Aid to carry out virological investigations of children presenting with both symptoms.2 

Conflicts of interest—such as drug companies carrying out trials of products they will benefit from—are standard practice in modern medical science.

Walker-Smith appealed the verdict, and in 2012, a UK high court justice reversed the decision on him.

The hypothesis that the MMR vaccine could cause autism was not on trial at the GMC’s 20-month hearing, the longest in its history, but it may as well have been. 

Despite the furor that followed, Wakefield only publicly maintained a possible link between the vaccine and the gastrointestinal conditions. Indeed, at a press conference following the publication of the paper, he confirmed that his research had not proven any association between the MMR vaccine and autism. 

Since that time, Wakefield has moved to the US and has carried on his research and lectures, despite continued demonization and even a book written by Brian Deer entitled The Doctor Who Fooled the World. 

It was Wakefield who directed the movie Vaxxed.

Studies directly comparing the vaccinated and unvaccinated are rare because few children are fully unvaccinated, especially in the US where vaccination is required to attend most schools. But one survey of homeschooling families found that vaccinated children were over four times more likely to have an autism diagnosis, and over six times more likely if they were also born prematurely

The MMR vaccine has been credited with drastically reducing the incidence of measles, but when examining the historical figures in the US’s vital statistics for measles deaths, some 90 percent of the decline in mortality in US children occurred before 1940—and before a measles vaccine was first developed

Foreign DNA

Overall, many millions of cell lines to produce vaccines have been developed from the lung cells of aborted human fetuses since 1961 in the US and 1966 in the UK.

Many vaccines that have been grown in human fetal tissue introduce foreign DNA into the body. 

Helen Ratajczak, formerly a researcher with Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, has discovered that 23 different vaccines given to infants contain human DNA. Of these, the polio vaccination, which is developed in human fetal tissue, is given to babies at the age of two months. The rubella component of the MMR jab and the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine are both prepared with human DNA.1 Dr Howard Urnovitz of the University of Michigan, who has studied genetic mutations caused by vaccines, argues that our body has a “genetic memory” of foreign substances it encounters, including vaccines.

Nevertheless, there is a limit to the amount the body can handle before genetic damage occurs or progresses to chronic disease, he says. That limit varies from person to person, depending on his or her unique immune capability.

Ratajczak and others believe that the early introduction of foreign DNA via vaccination into an immature immune system could be responsible for a range of chronic childhood conditions, including autism. 

American pediatrician Dr Kenneth Brock has coined the term the “four-A disorders”—autism, ADHD, asthma and allergies—to describe the major problems that together affect around more than a third of all children in the US.2

Sudden, sharp increases in all four childhood conditions happened around 20 years ago, and coincided with the introduction of the MMR II and chickenpox vaccines, which are both developed in human fetal tissue. Urnovitz’s theory would explain why conditions such as autism might result from over-vaccination.

Vaccination schedules, including the six-in-one vaccine DTaP/polio/Hib/hepatitis B jab, tend to start at the age of two months and are administered at a critical point in the development of the immune system. 

Although specific immune functions are competent at that age, many cellular activities are not yet fully operational.

Neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, who has studied the impact of vaccination on children’s neurological development, ultimately blames the intensive vaccine program itself. “Too many vaccines are being given to children during the brain’s most rapid growth period,” he writes.

The unscience of vaccine trials

The problem with virtually all official vaccine studies like those on which the FDA based its approval for the MMR is that they aren’t ever truly controlled trials.  

Unlike many drug studies, which compare an active agent with a placebo, vaccine studies carried out by drug companies or government agencies never compare vaccinated children with unvaccinated children but compare children vaccinated with one shot with children receiving another one.  

Such is the belief that every vaccine is always beneficial that former CDC head Robert Chen once claimed it would be “impossible, unethical, to leave kids unimmunized.”

One of the few vaccination trials to date to compare vaccinated children with completely unvaccinated children was a pilot study carried out by Anthony Mawson, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and his colleagues at the School of Public Health at Jackson State University in Mississippi. 

His study of 666 homeschooled children in the US compared 261 unvaccinated children with their vaccinated peers. Since childhood vaccination is compulsory for American children attending public school, the only cohorts with a fair number of unvaccinated children are those, in the main, who are homeschooled, Amish or orthodox Jewish.

Mawson and his colleagues discovered that the risk of being diagnosed on the autism spectrum (ASD) was more than four-fold higher among vaccinated children than their unvaccinated peers.  

The risk of having a learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and being on the autistic spectrum was 6.6-fold higher among children who’d been vaccinated and had also been born preterm.7 It should be noted that this study, like many others with an inconvenient outcome, was retracted. 

Another breadcrumb that may be connected to the gut issues reported after MMR vaccination was revealed by none other than the former director of the CDC, Julie Gerberding, who resigned in January 2009. (She later worked as president of the vaccine division of Merck, which produces one of the most widely used MMR vaccines.)  

She told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta that the MMR vaccine could cause autism in children born with mitochondrial disease, a condition in which cells fail to properly convert food and oxygen into energy. 

She estimated this could happen to one in 50 children—or 2 percent—so it wasn’t a rare condition. 

However, Gerderding’s calculations are likely an underestimate. Around 20 percent (or one in five) of all autistic children have mitochondrial disorders,8 and around half of the 4,800 cases of post-MMR autism filed for possible compensation claims in the US include some degree of mitochondrial dysfunction.9 

Another important breadcrumb is a study from biologists at Utah State University which discovered antibodies in blood samples from 75 of the 125 autistic children tested, indicating an abnormal reaction to the measles component of the MMR vaccine. 

These antibodies attack myelin, the insulating sheath that protects nerve fibers, thereby preventing the nerves from developing properly. This, in turn, can affect brain function. 

Lead researcher Vijendra Singh concluded that an abnormal immune response to the vaccine could be the cause of many cases of autism.10 

In a later study, Singh confirmed that the measles element of the MMR vaccine was associated with increased antibody levels in children with autism. He concluded that “autistic children have a hyperimmune response to measles virus, which, in the absence of a wild type of measles infection, might be a sign of an abnormal immune reaction to the vaccine strain or virus reactivation.”11

Censorship, data manipulation and fraud, reliance on passive reporting systems or studies comparing like for like—one vaccine against another—appear to be the modus operandi of health authorities and most researchers when attempting to disprove any causal link between vaccines and autism. But all along, what parents have wanted is merely an open-minded debate, and to be given the known facts concerning the safety of the MMR and other vaccines that their children are required to have based on studies carried out with true scientific rigor.

Mawson published a long reply to the Danish study, explaining the problem with using public registries as evidence, or even studies like the latest Italian one, which simply combines published studies of MMR-vaccinated children with children vaccinated with other jabs.  

As Mawson argues: “The effect of these analyses was therefore to compare autism rates in two highly vaccinated groups, thereby obliterating the potential impact of vaccines in general.

“Comparisons should instead be between fully vaccinated and completely unvaccinated groups of children, or between MMR-only vaccinated and completely unvaccinated children in terms of autism.”

But perhaps by focusing on clear signs of autism or targeting the MMR alone, he goes on, critics of the current body of scientific evidence may be looking in the wrong place. Scientists are looking simply at evidence of one set of symptoms when they should be looking at the whole picture, he says. 

“Evidence now suggests that autism is not an exclusively neuropsychiatric disorder but has many comorbid features such as allergies, middle ear infections and numerous systemic complications.” 

In his own study, Mawson and his colleagues found that autism and most of these other features were significantly more common in vaccinated than in unvaccinated children. And most significantly, they occurred in a “dose-response relationship,” meaning the more vaccines a child got, the more illnesses of this variety they had.

The biggest trigger of all may be the cumulative impact of multiple vaccines given together or nearly together and the insult they collectively cause. The autism connection ultimately may have more to do with the number of vaccines a child gets at one time or cumulatively (currently 72 in the US) and whether the baby has gestated to term. In Mawson’s study, “preterm birth coupled with vaccination nearly doubled the odds of a neurodevelopmental disorder.” 

At the heart of the issue may be gut inflammation and mitochondrial changes, long known to cause neurodegeneration.12 Mitochondria are the energy powerpacks of every cell, and recent evidence suggests that they regulate communication between neurons.13

And if it is down to the number of vaccines—or the number of foreign proteins and DNA insulting an immature immune system (see box, page 41)—studies comparing different vaccinated populations will simply mask the true source of the problem.

But to finally settle the issue, first we need scientists unaligned with drug companies or government agencies unafraid to investigate the inconvenient questions with proper science.

The gut profile

Wakefield’s study, which was retracted by The Lancet, was later replicated by two different research teams who found persistent measles antibodies in the guts of autistic children. The first, carried out by scientists at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, compared the gut mucosa of 275 children with autism to those of patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.  

Among the children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the team discovered what Andrew Wakefield had: “a gastrointestinal mucosal molecular profile that overlaps significantly with known inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), yet has distinctive features that further supports the presence of an ASD-associated IBD variant.”1 Furthermore, in 82 children evaluated by the team, 70 tested positive for the measles virus. 

“Of the handful of results we have in so far, all are vaccine strain and none are wild measles,” team leader Stephen Walker was quoted as saying in 2006.2 In another study, persistent measles antibodies were found in 83 percent of autistic children as well.3 

Researchers at Tokyo Medical University made similar discoveries when they examined children with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or autism, and found that some had signs of the measles virus in their gastrointestinal system. In the cases of autism and ulcerative colitis, on the basis of RNA analyses, the virus could have only come from vaccines.4

Other studies have since witnessed the phenomenon of chronic gut inflammation, including one from New York University School of Medicine in which researchers studied 143 autistic and ASD children and discovered that 73 percent evidenced the same gut profile that Wakefield had described.5

When the immunization schedules of 34 nations were compared against each country’s infant mortality rate (IMR) per 100,000 children, a statistically significant correlation was found between the mortality rate and the number of vaccines a child was given. The higher the number of shots, the higher the IMR

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Main Article



Ann Intern Med, 2019; 170(8): 513–20


Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2021; 11(11): CD004407



Pediatrics, 2004; 113(2): 259–66


Transl Neurodegener, 2014; 3: 16 



J Transl Sci, 2017; 3(3): 1–12. doi:10.15761/jts.1000186 (retracted)


Dev Med Child Neurol, 2007; 49(10): 726–33


Medical Veritas, 2009; 6: 1907–24


J Biomed Sci, 2002; 9: 359–64


Pediatr Neurol, 2003; 28(4): 292–4


Semin Cell Dev Biol, 2020; 99: 163–71


Curr Opin Physiol, 2018; 3: 82–93


The gut profile


PLoS One, 2013; 8(3): e58058


Daily Mail, May 28, 2006, “Scientists fear MMR link to autism”


Pediatr Neurol, 2003; 28(4): 292–4


Dig Dis Sci, 2000; 45: 723–9


Autism Insights, 2010; 2: 1–11


Foreign DNA



J Immunotoxicol, 2011; 8(1): 68–79




Medical Veritas, 2008; 5: 1714–26


Wakefield’s study



Lancet, 1998; 351(9103): 637–41 (retracted)


Richard Moskowitz, Vaccines: A Reappraisal (Skyhorse Publishing 2017)

Article Topics: Autism, vaccine
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