This debate – about a supposed link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) and autism - has been raging away in the UK for 5 years and shows no signs of going away. I’m wondering how it is playing in the US – if at all. Latest news (see link) is a row between the 2 docs who ignited the whole thing back in 1998, with one crying betrayal, the other saying his position has been misrepresented.
I don’t have an axe to grind here (no children, not working in medical profession), but I’m struck by how polarised the discussion has become – at least as it is represented in the media. It seems to be a choice between deciding it’s a conspiracy on the part of the medical establishment to keep awkward research findings from the public, and arguing that Dr Wakefield is a dangerously irresponsible maverick who is risking a measles epidemic by scaring parents off the MMR triple-vaccine.
I understand that Dr Wakefield’s hypothesis is regarded more sympathetically in the US, is this right?
On balance it looks as if the weight of evidence is against a connection between MMR and autism – the increase in autism cases over the last decade probably being a result of a widening of the diagnostic criteria for autism and greater awareness of the condition among professionals. Also the increase in new cases appears to have levelled off, whereas if MMR was triggering autism, cases should be increasing steadily.
However I think parents’ confusion is understandable (for every scientist who appears on TV dismissing fears, they see another parent insisting his/her child’s regression started dramatically, a week or so after the vaccine). To dismiss these parents as irrational (as the government is inclined to do) seems patronising to me – it’s a lot to do with how people perceive risk – if someone told you there is a 1 in 50 chance a vaccine would give your child a nasty flu, you’d probably accept it, but a 1 in 10million chance of severe brain damage might inspire caution.
Anyway, I’d be interested listen to American views on this.