Researchers from Guy’s Hospital in London, the Health Protection Agency and Manchester University studied 240 children, aged 10–12, who had been given the vaccine.
Of these, 98 had autism spectrum disorder (ASD), 52 had special educational needs but no ASD, and 90 had neither, according to the figures due to be published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
The researchers took blood samples from all the children to see if the MMR vaccination had caused an abnormal immune response that could trigger autism. They found no difference in the distribution of measles antibody, or in measles virus, between the three groups – regardless of whether they had received the first, second or both doses.
Study author David Brown, director of the virus reference department at the Health Protection Agency, said: 'The paper adds to the overwhelming body of evidence from around the world supporting the use of MMR.'
Fears about a link with autism were first raised by Dr Andrew Wakefield in 1998, 10 years after it was introduced. Although Dr Wakefield’s study of 12 children has been largely discredited, parents lost confidence in the vaccine and uptake fell to a low of 80%. Statistics for 2006–2007 show uptake has recovered to 85% in England but this is still short of the 95% recommended by the World Health Organization for 'herd immunity'.
Kate Howie, chairperson of the RCN practice nurses association, said: 'The fact that the authors have found no link [between MMR and ASD] will definitely help nurses to reassure parents, and hopefully uptake of the vaccine will increase.
'Being able to give parents consistent, up-to-date and accurate advice is important, and hopefully this research will be a big help,' she added.