Is There a Connection Between Vaccines and Autism?

Print this page Bookmark and Share

Is there a connection between vaccines and autism?
- Parris

Autism is a term used to describe a group of conditions that involve brain development known as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) or pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs).

The cause(s) of these disorders is unknown; however, over the years many theories have appeared in the media suggesting that they might stem from a host of causes, including food allergies, excessive amounts of yeast in the digestive tract, and exposure to mercury or other environmental toxins. None of these theories have been scientifically proven.

The results of two studies done by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and colleagues (which were published in 1998 and 2002) led Dr. Wakefield to propose that the altered measles virus in the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, or infection with naturally occurring measles virus itself, might cause autism. Others have speculated that the very small amounts of mercury that were used as a preservative in some vaccines might also be a cause (the MMR vaccine has never contained mercury, and mercury has been completely removed from nearly all vaccines available today).

Many scientists have found serious problems with Dr. Wakefield's research and question the validity of his findings. And recently, the editors of the medical journal Lancet, which published Dr. Wakefield's study, said that the flaws were so significant that they've withdrawn the paper from their publication. Also, recently published results from several large, well-controlled, scientifically sound studies indicate that there is no link between vaccines — or any of their ingredients — and autism.

It's clear that the risks of serious reactions to the MMR and other recommended vaccines are small compared with the health risks associated with the often-serious diseases they prevent. But if you have concerns about any vaccine for your child, talk to your doctor. Ask about the benefits and risks of each vaccine and why they're so important for safeguarding your child's health.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2012

Related Resources

OrganizationAutism Speaks Autism Speaks is committed to facilitating research that will uncover the causes of autism, develop effective biomedical treatments, and hasten the discovery of a cure.
OrganizationAutism Research Institute (ARI) The ARI is a nonprofit organization devoted to conducting research on the causes of autism and on methods of preventing, diagnosing, and treating autism and other severe behavioral disorders of childhood. Contact them at: Autism Research Institute
4182 Adams Ave.
San Diego, CA 92116 Fax: (619) 563-6840
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.
OrganizationAutism Society of America (ASA) The mission of ASA is to promote lifelong access and opportunities for persons within the autism spectrum and their families.
OrganizationImmunization Action Coalition This organization is a source of childhood, adolescent, and adult immunization information as well as hepatitis B educational materials.
Web SiteCDC: Learn the Signs. Act Early The CDC has launched a campaign to help parents recognize the milestones kids should reach in how they play, learn, speak, and act, between birth and the time they are 5 years old. If parents learn the milestones, they'll be able to spot any developmental problems, and get their kids any help they may need.

Related Articles

Making Sense of Medical News Medical news can be baffling. How do you know what's important, accurate, and relevant to your family's health? There are some simple ways to evaluate what the news means to you.
Autism Autism affects a child's communication and social skills, behaviors, and ability to learn. There's no cure, but early intervention and treatment can help kids improve skills and achieve their best potential.
Frequently Asked Questions About Immunizations Immunizations have protected millions of children from potentially deadly diseases. Learn about immunizations and find out exactly what they do - and what they don't.

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2014 KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and


Upcoming Events

Jingle Bell Run/Walk is a fun, festive event for the whole family! Put on your reindeer antlers and your running shoes and come join us for some holiday cheer.

Join us for a special night with an all-star line-up of country music acts performing to benefit the hospital!

Car Seat Safety Check

View full event calendarView more events...

Health and Safety

Your child's health and safety is our top priority


The Children's Medical Center of Dayton Dayton Children's
The Right Care for the Right Reasons

One Children's Plaza - Dayton, Ohio - 45404-1815