Syringes ready for vaccinations (file image)
Online claims linking vaccination to autism are false. Image by AP PHOTO

Studies blunt repeated shots at blaming vaccines for autism

Nik Dirga August 30, 2023

Unvaccinated children do not have autism, but vaccinated children do.


False. Studies show there is no notable difference in autism rates between vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

Social media users continue to spread claims unvaccinated children don’t have autism.

The claim is false, as has been proven over several decades by many in-depth studies.

Multiple posts are being shared on social media still making the claim. One Facebook post (screenshot here) states: “No autism in the unvaccinated kids. 1/36 in the vaxxed. WAKE UP.”

Other posts on X, formerly called Twitter, and Instagram are spreading similar misinformation.

A screenshot of the Facebook post.
 The online posts have no evidence backing up their claims. 

Multiple studies have examined autism rates among vaccinated and unvaccinated children, finding them to be roughly the same, as one of the study authors confirmed to AAP FactCheck.

A number of the posts do not specify what particular vaccines they are talking about, but many of the ongoing myths relate to MMR vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella, generally given to children starting as babies.

A 2002 Danish study looked at more than 500,000 children born between 1991 and 1998. It found unvaccinated children were just as likely to develop autism as vaccinated children and concluded there was “strong evidence against the hypothesis that MMR vaccination causes autism”.

Anders Peter Hviid, head of epidemiology research at the Statens Serum Institut, was one of study’s co-authors and of another similar study released in 2019 of more than 650,000 Danish children surveyed from 1999 to 2010.

“Both our 2002 NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) and 2019 Annals of Internal Medicine study compare autism rates among MMR vaccinated and MMR unvaccinated children and find that they are comparable,” Professor Hviid told AAP FactCheck.

Prof Hviid noted with regards to “completely unvaccinated children, in our 2019 study, we also looked at the MMR association in children without any infant vaccinations and came to the same result. Comparable rates of autism.”

Children play with toys at a preschool (file image)
 Autism rates are similar among vaccinated and unvaccinated children. 

Many other studies debunk the claim vaccines cause autism, including this 2005 study from Japan.

It looked at children born from 1988 to 1996 and found MMR vaccinations in the city of Yokohama dropped significantly starting in 1988 and stopped entirely in 1993, but incidents of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) actually began rising in 1988 and “notably rose dramatically beginning with the birth cohort of 1993”.

The study concluded “MMR vaccination is most unlikely to be a main cause of ASD”.

This 2012 Canadian study found autism rates did not differ between vaccinated and unvaccinated young people, while several other similar studies have come from researchers in Australia, Canada, and Poland. 

AAP FactCheck has debunked similar claims about autism and vaccines.

In this fact check, Rachael Dunlop, a medical researcher at Brain Chemistry Labs in Wyoming, said multiple studies over many years, involving tens of thousands of children, found no evidence of a link between vaccines and autism.

“In science, nothing is 100 per cent, so you can never say ‘vaccine(s) 100 per cent do not cause autism’ but you can say there is no good evidence to support this hypothesis (and I emphasise ‘good evidence’ because there is plenty of junk ‘science’ out there purporting to show a link),” Dr Dunlop said.

AAP FactCheck has also debunked other claims linking autism rates to vaccination.

A baby is vaccinated (file image)
 Multiple studies show no link between child vaccination and autism. 

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety and the Australian Department of Health are among many health organisations to state MMR vaccines do not cause autism.

Many of the online claims over vaccines and autism and an increase in scepticism of MMR vaccines can be traced to a since-discredited 1998 paper that implied a link between MMR vaccines and autism.

The paper was retracted by The Lancet medical journal over claims of misleading research and lead author Andrew Wakefield was struck off of the medical register but continues to be active in anti-vaccine circles.

The Verdict

The claim unvaccinated children don’t get autism is false.

Multiple studies have shown no link between MMR vaccines and autism. Several studies have explicitly compared unvaccinated and vaccinated children and found no notable difference in autism rates.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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