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No, there's clear evidence that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine does not cause autism.
Autism – a serious developmental disorder that causes problems in communication, social interaction, and behavior – has been on the rise since the 1970s. By some estimates it might now affect 1 in 59 children in the United States. No one knows what causes the condition or why it's becoming more prevalent, so parents are understandably alarmed.
Concern about a link between the MMR vaccine and autism began in 1998, after the British medical journal The Lancet published a study connecting the vaccine with autism. The researchers were investigating the theory that intestinal problems like Crohn's disease can result from viral infection and contribute to the development of autism.
The study was very small – only eight children with autism participated – and has since been retracted by The Lancet because the data were falsified. The study didn't examine whether children who got the MMR vaccine were more likely to develop autism than those who didn't get it.
Since then, many reputable studies have compared the incidence of autism in children who received the MMR vaccine and those who didn't, and have concluded that autism is not more common in vaccinated children.
The largest, most compelling of these is a study published in the March 2019 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. The researchers looked at more than half a million children over the course of ten years. Nearly 32,000 of those kids did not get the MMR vaccine. About 6,500 children were eventually diagnosed with autism. There was no difference in autism rates between the vaccinated and unvaccinated children.
Most experts point out that there's no plausible way for a vaccine to trigger autism. After all, there's no known connection between autism and measles, mumps, or rubella. It doesn't make sense that a vaccine would cause a condition that the disease itself doesn't cause, since a vaccine is essentially a symptomless infection.
Read more about vaccines and autism.