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GraphicMeasles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and bowel problems or developmental regression in children with autism: population study

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 16 February 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:393
  1. Brent Taylor (b.taylor{at}, professor of community child healtha,
  2. Elizabeth Miller, headb,
  3. Raghu Lingam, research fellowa,
  4. Nick Andrews, statisticianb,
  5. Andrea Simmons, research fellowa,
  6. Julia Stowe, research associatea
  1. a Centre for Community Child Health, Royal Free and University College Medical School, University College London Royal Free Campus, London NW3 2PF
  2. b Immunisation Division, Public Health Laboratory Service, Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, London NW9 5EQ
  1. Correspondence to: B Taylor
  • Accepted 24 January 2002


Objectives: To investigate whether measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination is associated with bowel problems and developmental regression in children with autism, looking for evidence of a “new variant” form of autism.

Design: Population study with case note review linked to independently recorded vaccine data.

Setting: Five health districts in north east London.

Participants: 278 children with core autism and 195 with atypical autism, mainly identified from computerised disability registers and born between 1979 and 1998.

Main outcome measures: Recorded bowel problems lasting at least three months, age of reported regression of the child's development where it was a feature, and relation of these to MMR vaccination.

Results: The proportion of children with developmental regression (25% overall) or bowel symptoms (17%) did not change significantly (P value for trend 0.50 and 0.47, respectively) during the 20 years from 1979, a period which included the introduction of MMR vaccination in October 1988. No significant difference was found in rates of bowel problems or regression in children who received the MMR vaccine before their parents became concerned about their development (where MMR might have caused or triggered the autism with regression or bowel problem), compared with those who received it only after such concern and those who had not received the MMR vaccine. A possible association between non-specific bowel problems and regression in children with autism was seen but this was unrelated to MMR vaccination.

Conclusions: These findings provide no support for an MMR associated “new variant” form of autism with developmental regression and bowel problems, and further evidence against involvement of MMR vaccine in the initiation of autism.

What is already known on this topic

What is already known on this topic A “new variant” form of autism has been hypothesised, associated with developmental regression and bowel problems and caused or triggered by the MMR vaccination

This postulated association along with media attention has had a major adverse effect on public confidence in the vaccine

Although population studies have shown no association between autism and MMR vaccine it has been further postulated that various environmental or genetic cofactors are required for the effect

What this study adds

What this study adds The proportion of children with autism who had developmental regression or bowel problems has not changed over the 20 years from 1979

Neither developmental regression nor bowel problems in children with autism was associated with MMR vaccination

No evidence was found for a “new variant” form of autism


  • Funding Department of Health.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Accepted 24 January 2002
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