The MMR vaccine does not cause autism
There is a lot of misinformation about vaccines circulating in the online world. Most notorious is the claim that the MMR vaccine causes autism in children. It was recently published that only one in five children in Montenegro born in 2019 have received the MMR vaccine. In addition to creating fertile ground for a measles outbreak, this data also speaks volumes about the lack of awareness of Montenegro’s citizens about the possible harmful impact of misinformation on parents’ decisions.
UNICEF’s young reporters decided to ask experts whether it was true that the MMR vaccine causes autism in children and to contribute to promoting MMR immunization by publishing accurate information.
Epidemiologist Senad Begic reminded us about the origins of the misinformation that the MMR vaccine causes autism:
This is due to the involvement of English gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield, who in the 1990s, after reviewing 12 patients, stated that a certain vaccine led to changes in the intestines that resulted in increased intestinal permeability to various toxins from food and the environment.
Dr Begic stated that it later turned out that Dr Wakefield had a financial interest in pursuing this topic and a few months before the study had registered his own vaccine against the very disease he was blaming for the condition. It was proven beyond any doubt that the publication of his research was “dishonourable and irresponsible”, which resulted in the journal publicly withdrawing the article, noting that the data and some aspects of the paper had been fabricated and falsified.
The article was removed from the medical journal Lancet and labelled as dishonest and fabricated, and Wakefield lost his licence to work in the UK due to dishonest behaviour, violation of moral and non-compliance with the code of ethics of the honourable medical profession, and damage to the health of children around the world. Today, he is considered the leading “fake expert” who still makes a significant profit from the publicity and from public appearances that have nothing to do with medicine and science.
He explains that modern science has not yet thoroughly explained the causes of autism, while all credible scientific studies that have been conducted in the world in recent decades clearly and unequivocally indicate that vaccines have absolutely nothing to do with this developmental disorder. He reminds us that a study by the Danish “Statens Serum Institute” published last year once again confirmed the scientific truth related to this topic.
The starting premise was that, provided that vaccines cause autism, the prevalence of these disorders would be statistically higher in vaccinated children compared to unvaccinated ones. However, researchers DID NOT FIND any indication of such difference, which once again confirmed that vaccines have nothing to do with autism.
Although the results of the study clearly and unequivocally prove and confirm the findings of many previous studies, this research, Begic believes, will not necessarily be a ‘stake through the heart’ which will end the anti-vaccination movement, for the simple reason that its proponents will instantly seek another untruth, distort the facts and create a new deception, which will continue to confuse parents, attract media attention and create profit.”
Dr Ivan Krgović, a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry from the Centre for Autism, believes that this misinformation finds fertile ground among parents, probably because the first apparent symptoms of autism-spectrum disorders appear when the child is 12 to 24 months old, that is immediately after receiving the MMR vaccine.
Large studies have been conducted on a large number of children who have been closely observed for a number of years, and no connection has been found between the MMR vaccine and the occurrence of autism in children.
He explained that citizens used to have much more confidence in vaccination, which probably stemmed from a functional system that instilled confidence.
During the transition and due to wars, sanctions and social turmoil, citizens were exposed to propaganda, fraudulent pyramid savings schemes and corruption in various forms, which have all undermined trust in institutions. For this reason, I understand some of the distrust toward official information.
When asked how much parents’ decisions are influenced by the public appearances of celebrities who have advocated that parents should not vaccinate their children, Dr Krgovic believes that celebrities and fake news influence public opinion to a significant extent.
We need to make a clear distinction between freedom of speech and personal opinion, on the one hand, and the spread of misinformation, on the other, and put the emphasis on the promotion of accurate information.
The number of preschool children who have been vaccinated with at least one dose of the measles vaccine is at an all-time low. Dr Begic believes that conditions are slowly being created for measles to spread like wildfire once the virus enters a vulnerable child population.
General COVID-19 prevention measures are creating conditions which are not conducive to the spread of the virus, but their implementation is neither a permanent nor a sustainable solution when it comes to preventing a measles outbreak.
Dr Begic says that only vaccination can provide adequate collective immunity and protection from this epidemic. In addition to this, Dr Krgovic believes that more effort should be invested in health promotion, especially in terms of sharing as much information as possible through the media, educational programmes, public debates and promotional actions.
UNICEF’s young reporters are urging citizens to check information whose accuracy is doubtful in their opinion and not to use “medicines” not recommended by experts.
In an effort to contribute towards preventing the dissemination of coronavirus misinformation and towards promoting credible sources of information, UNICEF’s young reporters have decided to check the accuracy of information published on social media and in the media that has attracted public attention. In verifying the accuracy of information, they have followed the example of the Public Disclosure Platform Raskrinkavanje and have partially used its publicly available methodology.