The MMR Vaccine Controversy

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A vaccine and its types

A vaccine is an injection intended to provide acquired immunity against a specific disease (Dutcher & Bilen, 2018). Therefore, different types of vaccines exist which are made to prepare the body to fight different types of germs. Vaccines are categorized into four major types which include live-attenuated vaccines, toxoid vaccines, inactivated vaccines, and conjugate vaccines. As much as vaccines are made to prepare our bodies in fighting off certain diseases, there is a controversy research that surrounds them. That is vaccines have been claimed to cause autism, which is a developmental disorder. Despite vaccines being the most speculated source of autism, most researchers in the field of medicine believe that there is no conclusive scientific research that links vaccines to autism. The vaccine controversy research is surrounded by the MMR hypothesis and the thimerosal hypothesis.

The MMR hypothesis

The MMR hypothesis or the MMR vaccine controversy surrounds the MMR vaccine (combined measles, mumps, and rubella). The controversy links the MMR vaccine to autism spectrum disorders (Ahearn, 2010). A 1998 publication in The Lancet is the genesis of the MMR vaccine controversy. Since it was the first time for vaccines to be linked to autism by any research paper, the claims were reported widely, an aspect which led to a drastic drop in the rates of vaccination throughout Europe and the consequent increase in measles and mumps cases (Ahearn, 2010). The claims by the 1998 publication led to epidemiological studies by various institutions including the UK National Health Service, the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Ahearn, 2010). Much to the surprise of many scientists and researchers, the epidemiological studies by the aforementioned institutions found out that MMR vaccine was in anyway not linked to autism.

The thimerosal hypothesis

After the epidemiological studies about MMR vaccine and autism, an investigative journalist by the name of Brian Deer initiated investigations to find more about the author of the 1998 publication, known as Andrew Wakefield. Journalist Deer found out that Mr. Wakefield had broken a number of ethical codes in publishing the misleading publication (Ahearn, 2010). Some of the breached ethical codes include things such as manipulating evidence and having several undeclared conflicts of interest. The publication was fully retracted from The Lancet in 2010 after being partially retracted in 2004 (Ahearn, 2010). The full retraction of the paper from The Lancet came after the editor-in-chief described it as "utterly false." Andrew Wakefield's actions led him into being deregistered from the Medical Register by the General Medical Council after being found guilty, meaning that he could no longer practice as a doctor. After research conclusively proved that MMR vaccine had nothing to do with autism and that Andrew Wakefield's publication was a fraud, people gained confidence back in the usage of MMR vaccine and the vaccination rates were reported to have increased (Ahearn, 2010).

Thimerosal controversy

The other hypothesis in the vaccine controversy research is the thimerosal hypothesis or simply the thimerosal controversy. The hypothesis claims that vaccines containing thiomersal, a mercury-based preservative, are responsible for causing autism (Haley, 2005). Following the thimerosal hypothesis, vaccine manufacturers in the United States were instructed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to exclude thiomersal in the manufacture of vaccines as a precautionary measure (Haley, 2005). Although thiomersal is still used in other flu vaccines, it was totally phased out of most vaccines in both the United States and the European Union. Thimerosal controversy has led to confusion among many parents who fail to vaccinate their children in fear of thiomersal toxicity and instead resort in unproven and possibly dangerous methods to treat their autistic children. In the United States alone statistics show that numerous litigations have been made by parents who seek compensation for alleged toxicity to their children by vaccines (Haley, 2005).

Scientific evidence and concerns

Scientific research has shown that thiomersal-containing vaccines do not cause autism (Haley, 2005). As a conclusive proof that thiomersal is not in any way related to autism, rates of autism have been reported to continue increasing both in the United States and in the European Union despite the removal of thiomersal in vaccines. This conclusive proof has led to major scientific bodies such as the World Health Organization and the Institute of Medicine to clear thiomersal from any suspicion of causing autism. Nonetheless, some parents still contend that autism is caused by thiomersal despite the scientific evidence saying otherwise (Haley, 2005).

Pertinent questions and conclusions

Autism commonly occurs in children and things like vaccination could easily be attributed to the condition. MMR hypothesis was disapproved by scientists for having found no link between MMR vaccine and autism. The pertinent question in this hypothesis is whether the MMR vaccine can be laced with autism preventing agents. If the vaccine has been found not to cause autism but certain children go on to develop it, it would therefore be prudent for scientific and medical bodies throughout the world to consider lacing the MMR vaccine with autism prevention agents to help alleviate the condition in children.

The other important question touches on the thimerosal hypothesis. The hypothesis was proved to be untrue by finding out that thimerosal does not lead to the development of autism. Nonetheless, thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative, hence begging the question whether it is not capable of causing cancer, let alone autism. Mercury is a metal listed as carcinogenic, and its presence in thimerosal would directly translate into thimerosal being carcinogenic. Despite thimerosal being phased out in several vaccines, some flu vaccines still contain it and therefore have the potential to be carcinogenic. Scientific and medical institutions throughout the world should recommend the complete phase-out of thimerosal in all vaccines.

Vaccine controversy research is surrounded by two main hypotheses, namely the MMR hypothesis and the thimerosal hypothesis. Both hypotheses have been scientifically proven to be untrue. In essence, the autism condition is not caused by vaccination. However, some pertinent questions arise regarding vaccination and autism. For instance, why can't vaccines be laced with autism prevention agents to alleviate the autism issue in children? By doing so, more parents would even have more faith in the vaccines. Also, thimerosal should be completely phased out in all vaccines due to its potential carcinogenic effects, despite having no links to autism.


Ahearn, W. (2010). What Every Behavior Analyst Should Know About the “MMR Causes Autism” Hypothesis. Behavior Analysis In Practice, 3(1), 46-50. doi: 10.1007/bf03391757

Dutcher, G., & Bilen, M. (2018). Therapeutic Vaccines for Genitourinary Malignancies. Vaccines, 6(3), 55. doi: 10.3390/vaccines6030055

Haley, B. (2005). Hypothesis: Thimerosal in mandated vaccinations is the major etiological agent in the recent increase in autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. Medical Veritas: The Journal Of Medical Truth, 1, 438-440. doi: 10.1588/medver.2005.02.00057

October 13, 2023

Child Development

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