Skeptic News: 'MMR vaccine causes autism' claim banned

A website offering parents advice on childhood immunisation has been ordered to remove information about the MMR vaccine after renewing claims that it could be linked to autism.

Babyjabs.co.uk claims to be:

“a dedicated children’s immunisation service, offering a choice of single and small combination vaccines. We let you, as parents, make an informed choice of which vaccines to give your child, and when these vaccines should be given. We will help you plan a personalised immunisation schedule for your child.”

However the site was recently the subject of an Advertising Standards Authority issue campaign over claims made about vaccination on it’s website. The site said that the MMR vaccine:

“could be causing autism in up to 10% of autistic children in the UK””

and that

“Most experts now agree that the large rise (in autism) has been caused partly by increased diagnosis, but also by a real increase in the number of children with autism.”

A further claim said the vaccine-strain measles virus has been found in the gut and brain of some autistic children, which supports many parents’ belief that the MMR vaccine caused autism in their children.

In defence of the claims the website referred to a book written by Babyjabs medical director Dr Richard Halvorsen “The Truth About Vaccines” which stated:

 “If one in 800 MMR vaccinations triggered an autistic disorder, this would result in around 1,200 children a year in the UK being made autistic by the bundling of the vaccines. This is probably the worst case scenario.”

The complainant looked at Halvorsens claims, in his book and on the babyjabs website, and found them to be unsubstantiated and unscientific. In particular the claim:

Most experts now agree that the large rise has been caused partly by increased diagnosis, but also by a real increase in the number of children with autism.

As he notes no citation is given for this claim and shows that the research actually states that

“Most data indicate increased recognition and reporting as primary factors, but the epidemiologic data are insufficient to determine if there has been a true increase in the incidence of ASD’”

Upholding the complaint, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) noted that the website makes clear that the original allegations of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism by Andrew Wakefield was “strongly rejected” by government and the medical establishment”. But it said consumers are likely to infer from the website’s claims that the vaccine might have played a role in the “increase” in the number of children with autism.

The ASA said: “We understood that the position held by the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health was that no evidence existed of a causal association between the MMR vaccine and autism or autistic disorders, and that the Cochrane review, looking at the general evidence available, could find no significant association between MMR immunisation and autism.

“We noted that the evidence provided by the advertiser included studies and an article which looked at the increased prevalence of autism, but did not include evidence that any increase was due to the MMR vaccine.”

It ruled that the claims must not appear again in their current form.

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