In the last few months English newspapers and television have been having a vigorous debate over the possible risks of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine (known as MMR).

Many parents in England have chosen not to have their children vaccinated with the MMR vaccine because of reported risks of links to autism and bowel disease. Other parents have sought to get separate vaccines for each of the diseases of Measles, Mumps and Rubella although the British National Health Service does not supply it. Some doctors have said that the quality of individual vaccines is not as good as the combined vaccine. They cite a a 14 year follow-up study study of children immunized with MMR in Finland, which found only 173 potentially serious reactions in 1.8 million children vaccinated. The most serious were cases of encephalits, an inflammation of the Brain, of which there were 3. The authors of the study say they found no cases of inflammatory bowel disease or autism linked to MMR.

The debate has been fueled by research by Dr Andrew Wakefield who published a report in the British medical journal, The Lancet, in 1998, linking the vaccine to autism and bowel disease.

The divergence in opinion has been so striking that it shows substantially more research needs to be done to verify or refute the claimed link. Another paper by Dr. Wakefield is expected to question the clinical trials that were carried out to ensure the safety and efficacy of the combined MMR before it was licensed in 1992. One of the main contentions is that follow-up data is collected over too short a period, a claim that can be made against all vaccine research. In general, any incidence after 72 hours of having a vaccine is not attributed to the vaccine, however serious the condition. Therefore, it is possible that more long-term effects, such as autism, or mental and physical development could be at least partly due to vaccines but which never gets reported as being connected in anyway with vaccines.

It is interesting that in the USA, the incidence of autism and behavioral conditions such as ADD or ADHD have dramatically increased in the last 20 years. The number of Special Needs children requiring special teaching requirements has also increased considerably.

Therefore, in order to find out if there any connections between the vaccine and these conditions, a comprehensive long-term study will have to be done, which would have to honestly explore all the issues. This is not easy given the importance of vaccines and the challenge of getting all children vaccinated. Anything that instills fear into parents which makes them more cautious of having their children vaccinated may be avoided by researchers. However, as this issue keeps coming up and the fact of the increased incidence of conditions such as autism, it will require serious research to reveal the truth.