Context: Considerable concern has been generated in the lay and medical communities by a theory that increased measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) immunization among young children may be the cause of an apparent marked increase in autism occurrence.
Objective: To determine if a correlation exists in secular trends of MMR immunization coverage among young children and autism occurrence.
Design, setting, and participants: Retrospective analyses of MMR immunization coverage rates among children born in 1980-1994 who were enrolled in California kindergartens (survey samples of 600-1900 children each year) and whose school immunization records were reviewed to retrospectively determine the age at which they first received MMR immunization; and of autism caseloads among children born in these years who were diagnosed with autism and were enrolled in the California Department of Developmental Services regional service center system.
Main outcome measures: Measles-mumps-rubella immunization coverage rates as of ages 17 months and 24 months and numbers of Department of Developmental Services system enrollees diagnosed with autism, grouped by year of birth.
Results: Essentially no correlation was observed between the secular trend of early childhood MMR immunization rates in California and the secular trend in numbers of children with autism enrolled in California's regional service center system. For the 1980-1994 birth cohorts, a marked, sustained increase in autism case numbers was noted, from 44 cases per 100 000 live births in the 1980 cohort to 208 cases per 100 000 live births in the 1994 cohort (a 373% relative increase), but changes in early childhood MMR immunization coverage over the same time period were much smaller and of shorter duration. Immunization coverage by the age of 24 months increased from 72% to 82%, a relative increase of only 14%, over the same time period.
Conclusions: These data do not suggest an association between MMR immunization among young children and an increase in autism occurrence.