"WHETHER or not to vaccinate children has sparked fiery debate among parents for decades.
Many parents feel immunisation is unnatural and there are prevalent fears about a link between vaccination and autism.
But a new report led by the University of Sydney appears to have settled the argument.
A review of available data from around the world has found that there is no link between vaccination and the development of autism or autism spectrum disorders.
The study examined seven sets of data involving more than 1.25 million children and concluded that there was no evidence to support a relationship between common vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough and the development of autism.
The paper’s senior author, Associate Professor Guy Eslick from the Sydney Medical School, said he was inspired to look into the issue after watching some documentaries on the medical debate.
“I thought, surely someone has put this data together. I searched; there was nothing,” Prof Eslick said.
“There has been enormous debate regarding the possibility of a link between these commonly used and safe childhood vaccinations and the supposed development of autism.
“The data consistently shows the lack of evidence for an association between autism, autism spectrum disorders and childhood vaccinations … providing no reason to avoid immunisation on these grounds.”
The idea that vaccines were linked to autism took hold in 1998 when British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield published a paper that hypothesised that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine could lead to the condition.
The paper has since been discredited and his research was found to be fraudulent.
In 2011, pharmaceutical scientist Dr Dennis Flaherty called Wakefield’s findings “the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years”.
Prof Eslick said Wakefield’s erroneous research was still cited.
“He is viewed by the anti-vaccination lobby as a demigod (but) we don’t know what causes autism,” he said.
Prof Eslick stressed that he had no vested interest in the argument. He is not an expert in vaccination or autism and his study was not funded by a drug company.
“I did this because it was really interesting to me that there is a mass of people against vaccination and there really wasn’t any information to support that,” he said.
“I want my research to elucidate the truth and find out what’s real.
“When I saw the data, I would have to say I was a bit surprised but happy overall.”
Prof Eslick said the fear of this relationship between vaccination and autism had become a major public health issue.
“This is especially concerning given the fact that there have been 11 measles outbreaks in the US since 2000, and NSW also saw a spike in measles infections from early 2012 to late 2012,” he said.
Groups such as the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network maintain that there is a link between vaccination and autism. The network has uploaded a list of studies that supports its views here.
Prof Eslick said he had a great deal of empathy for parents of children with autism.
“(This study) will be cold comfort for them and I don’t think it will change their minds. You will probably never be able to change their minds,” he said.
Vaccination does harbour some risks — such as rashes and allergic reactions — but these are uncommon, according to Prof Eslick.
The review has been published in the medical journal Vaccine."