Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Japanese study is more evidence that MMR does not cause autism

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 10 March 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:558

Rapid Response:

Further bemusement at Sir Michael's role: vagueness and certainty

It is not very clear exactly what expertise Sir Michael Rutter brought to the Japanese study. To recap:

"He told the Eye that as he was not an immunologist he could not comment on the suggestion that giving three separate vaccines a short time apart was the same as administering the MMR triple vaccine. But he added that although it was unfortunate that there was little relevant material published on any possible interference between vaccine components, immunologists whom he had consulted doubted that this was a significant issue". [1]

On the other hand he also seems remarkably non-commital about other possible causes and scale of the problem:

"Prof Rutter said that one good thing that had come out of Dr Wakefield's controversial 1998 paper that raised the MMR alarm, which he believed should not have been published in that form in the Lancet, was that it triggered much useful autism research.

"Some experts convinced of a real rise in autism across the developed world - rather than as many still maintain, better diagnosis and detection - were now looking for an unknown environmental trigger that might interact with an unknown genetic risk. He said that while the MMR could fit that environmental profile, he claimed his and other researchers work showed it did not fit the pattern."[1]

So we are faced with the curiosity that as of 2005 Professor Sir Michael Rutter is still uncertain whether there is an autism epidemic or not, vague about the causes if there is, but convinced if there is - without having personally examined the science - that MMR is not implicated.

You wonder:

Whether he has sufficient scientific grounds for taking sides?

Why - as the leading member of child psychiatric profession in the UK for the last three decades - he did not start to take urgent action in the late 1980s to find out what might be going awry, and why even now all these years later it does not seem of greater urgency?

Why, apart from the MMR issue, researchers were looking for "an unknown environmental trigger" rather than very obviously known one like mercury?

[1] MMR, The link effect, Private Eye No 1129, 1-15 April 2005, p.27.

Competing interests: Parent of an autistic child

Competing interests: No competing interests

01 April 2005
John Stone
London N22