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Is There a Connection Between Vaccines and Autism?

Medically reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD

Do Vaccines Cause Autism?

No, there is no connection between vaccines and autism.

Autism is a condition that affects the brain and can make communicating and interacting with other people difficult. The cause(s) of autism is unknown. But genetics, differences in brain anatomy, and toxic substances in the environment are thought to contribute to children developing it.

So, how did the idea that vaccines play a role get started? Much of the blame lies with a study published in 1998 that suggested that the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, or infection with the naturally occurring measles virus itself, might cause autism. Since then, many scientific studies have shown that there is no link between vaccines — or any of their ingredients — and autism.

Also, the research used in that 1998 study was found to be false, the doctor who wrote it lost his medical license, and the medical journal that published it retracted the paper (this means that they believe it never should have been published).

Even with the overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, some parents still decide not to have their children vaccinated or to delay vaccinations. But this is extremely risky — vaccine-preventable diseases like measles are still around. An unvaccinated child who gets a preventable disease could get very sick or even die, as could other people around the child.

Sometimes, kids can have a reaction to a vaccine like a mild fever or rash. But it's clear that the risk of serious reactions to the MMR and other recommended vaccines is small compared with the health risks of the often-serious diseases they prevent.

If you have concerns about any vaccine recommended for your child, talk to your doctor. Ask about the benefits and risks of each vaccine and why they're so important.

Medically reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: March 2019