MMR and autism: Italy's courts get involved

An Italian health news website seems to have reported that an Italian court has ruled that an MMR vaccine caused autism in a child. I am relying on a Google Translate translation of the piece, as I speak no Italian, but it appears that the court has upheld an appeal from the parents for the Ministry of Health to pay compensation "for irreversible complications caused by a vaccination" ("per complicanze irreversibili causate da una vaccinazione"). According to the piece, which reports The Lancet's withdrawal of the Andrew Wakefield paper that linked MMR and autism, and the British Medical Journal's more recent studies that clearly refute the link, the Board Scientifico del Calendario Vaccinale per la Vita is concerned about this ruling and is calling for the Ministry of Health to appeal against the decision.

Of course, there is a rash of coverage about this on the plethora of vaccine refusers' websites, one of which claims (without any references that I could see, so I can't confirm whether it is true) that there has been a ruling in the U.S. that a thiomersal preservative in an MMR vaccine caused autism. However, in three federal courts and three cases, judges ruled that there were no links between MMR and autism.

Refusing vaccines is leading to increases in outbreaks of infectious diseases such as measles. At the beginning of May, there were reports in the U.K. press that Liverpool has seen the largest outbreak of measles since the introduction of the MMR vaccine--over 300 confirmed and probable cases for the year by the end of April, compared with less than 200 at the end of March. Almost a quarter of the confirmed cases were in patients under a year old--too young to have the vaccine, but who would usually have been protected by the "herd immunity".

Measles is more than just a childhood bug. Around one in 15 people developing measles will develop complications, and these can include fits, ear infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, long-term lung problems and even brain damage. People sometimes die from measles. While speaking with my general practitioner last week, she said it breaks her heart to see children seriously ill with infections that could have been prevented. -- Suzanne Elvidge (email)