Myth linking vaccines to autism debunked by biggest study on subject till date

The anti-vax movement has caused a worrying surge in measles in 2018 because of hesitancy to vaccinate.

Scientists have published the biggest study till date disproving the alleged link between vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and autism.

The findings throw yet another punch at a dangerous new conspiracy theory about the use of vaccines. The movement, driven by an "anti-vaxxer" group of skeptics is aiming to go as far as changing public policy of how medicines are administered based entirely on scaremongering, and without any factual basis or proof to support their claims.

A new nationwide study with 6,57,461 subjects born between 1999 and 2010 in Denmark looked to bust any shred of doubt that skeptics still had on the safety of MMR and other vaccines. Over the span a decade, all the subjects participated in follow-up exams.

 Myth linking vaccines to autism debunked by biggest study on subject till date

A health worker holds bottles of 'Pneumovax' during a vaccination programme organised by in the outskirts of Siliguri. Reuters

Not all the 6 lakh+ children that were participants in the study were vaccinated, and 6,517 of them went on to develop autism. On analysing the data, researchers found the risk of developing autism and subsequently developing autism was 0.93 percent. Not only is this figure very low, it is statistically next to none — a non-existent risk case.

Published in Annals of Internal Medicine, this study is the single-largest study on the anti-vaccination issue in terms of its size to date.

There are several other studies that have also proven that a correlation between vaccines and autism doesn't exist. In fact, some have even shown unexpected benefits of being vaccinated, like better immunity to fight unrelated infections.

Measles spots on an unwitting baby.

Measles spots on an unwitting little one.

The research is an important tool in the argument against growing social anti-vaxxers movement. It has gathered huge steam over the past decade, dismissing key findings along the way and using religious grounds to oppose vaccines. Some anti-vaxxers also view compulsory vaccinations as monitoring or interference from the government. But it seems that the bulk of anti-vaxxers are still driven by concern over the safety and "true" efficiency of vaccines in children.

Suspicions about a possible link between vaccines and autism were first raised in a Lancet study in 1999. The article has since been retracted, due to many inaccuracies and contrary findings that came up during a later investigation of the group's research.

In a comic, WHO highlights how people can stand up to anti-vaxxers using a scientific approach — where knowledge and facts as opposed to feelings and assumptions are given weight. Image courtesy: WHO Best practice guidance on how to respond to vocal vaccine deniers public

In a comic, WHO highlights how people can stand up to anti-vaxxers using a scientific approach — where knowledge and facts, as opposed to feelings and assumptions, are given weight. Image courtesy: WHO's Guide on How to respond to vocal vaccine deniers in public

But the movement has slowly and surely gotten much bigger since 1998. The WHO has made it their mission to fight the spread of the movement, even listing "vaccine hesitancy" as one of its top ten threats to global health. Their evidence comes from measles outbreaks making a comeback in countries where many people skeptical about vaccines are opting out of immunising their children.

Just 10 countries were responsible for three-quarters of the surge in measles cases in 2018, according to the UNICEF, including one of the world's richest nations — France. Conflict, complacency and the anti-vax movement are "threatening to undo decades of work to tame the disease", they added.

Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease, the World Health Organisation says in its online campaign. "It prevents 2-3 million deaths a year...and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved."

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