Health agencies are busy trying to limit the damage from a new study that proves a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism. In the UK, where the vaccine is not compulsory, health spokesmen are claiming the study is not scientific.
Sadly for them, the study is effectively a simple piece of reporting, and is based on the cases of reactions to vaccines posted with the American Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) from 1994 to 2000. Needless to say, the UK does not have a similar reporting facility.
Dr Mark Geier, from the Genetic Centers of America, and his son David discovered that the MMR vaccine was responsible for 133 reports of neurological problems and brain damage, and specific reports of 29 cases of autism.
The study raises several interesting questions that have been ignored by the international press. In the first place, the researchers found that the MMR vaccine was far more dangerous than the DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) jab, and was five times more likely to cause autism.
Leaving aside autism, it's been long supposed that the DTP jab carries more risks than the MMR vaccination, which suggests one of two things: we've been wrong all along with this supposition, or that there's been some serious under-reporting.
This latter concern permeates all of medicine, but the true level of under-reporting is unknown, with estimates varying from 1 in 10 to 1 in 20,000 drug reactions ever being lodged. The reason is simple enough. If a doctor does not believe that a drug (or vaccine) can cause a reaction, because he believes it to be perfectly safe, then any case presenting a reaction will not be reported.
The other interesting point from the Geiers' study is the amount of evidence from previous studies, some going back to 1973, that has consistently shown the dangers of the MMR and other childhood vaccines. This, for us at WDDTY, has been the single most puzzling aspect of the whole MMR/autism debate, and, indeed, we were pointing out the likely link in 1989, years before Dr Andrew Wakefield published his landmark study.
The importance of the Geier study is to prove the link. The fact that the problem is far more prevalent is, perhaps, for another study.
(Source: International Pediatrics, 2003; 18: 108-13).