A website offering parents advice on childhood vaccines has been ordered to remove claims the MMR jab is linked to autism.
Babyjabs.co.uk said the immunisation "could be causing autism in up to 10 per cent of autistic children in the UK”, adding: "Most experts now agree that the large rise [in autism] has been caused partly by increased diagnosis, but also by a real increase in the number of children with autism."
The site also alleged that the vaccine-strain measles virus had been found in the gut and brain of some autistic children, supporting some parents’ belief that the MMR vaccine caused autism in their child.
But following a complaint, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered Babyjabs.co.uk to delete the allegations – branding them “misleading” and unsubstantiated.
The company, which is based in London’s Wimpole Street and offers a range of immunisations to children – but no MMR jab – has been warned that the claims must not appear again “in their current form”.
In its defence, Babyjabs cited a 2002 study, which it claimed concluded: "We cannot rule out the existence of a susceptible subgroup with an increased risk of autism if vaccinated."
And it said The Truth About Vaccines, a book written by Babyjabs’ own medical director Dr Richard Halvorsen, claimed that "research, including large population studies, has since shown that the MMR is not causing the large majority of autism, but has been unable to exclude the possibility that it is causing autism in a small number of susceptible children."
But although the website points out that the original, controversial allegations of a link between MMR and autism made by British former surgeon Andrew Wakefield in 1998 have since been “strongly rejected” by the medical establishment, the advertising watchdog said visitors to the site could still infer that the jab may have played a role in the “increase” in the number of children with autism.
The ASA said: "We understood that the position held by the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health was that no evidence existed of a causal association between the MMR vaccine and autism or autistic disorders, and that the Cochrane review, looking at the general evidence available, could find no significant association between MMR immunisation and autism.
"We noted that the evidence provided by the advertiser included studies and an article which looked at the increased prevalence of autism, but did not include evidence that any increase was due to the MMR vaccine."