Debunked link between MMR vaccine and autism left dangerous immunity gap among young men and a ‘high risk’ of measles spread in Ireland

Ireland’s efforts to combat the spread of measles were compromised by rampant misinformation that had spread around a link between the vaccine and autism, according to a submission for Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.

In documents urging a “catch-up” programme for the MMR vaccine, officials said that nearly one in five males in the eighteen-to-nineteen-year-old age bracket were “non-immune”.

The submission said the huge gap in immunity against measles was likely down to “misinformation regarding the MMR vaccine which falsely implicated it with a risk of autism”.

The document, prepared by Department of Health officials in February, said: “As autism is more often diagnosed in young male children, it is likely that a cohort of now young men were not vaccinated due to parental decisions informed by this erroneous science which has since been discredited.”

Minister Donnelly was also told it was not possible to accurately assess the number of unvaccinated people in Ireland because there was no data available for certain population groups.

The submission said that the country had many healthcare workers from overseas “and their measles immunity status may be unclear.”

The minister was informed as well about difficulties in “congregate settings” especially where people had travelled to seek asylum and safety in Ireland.

“The HSE has advised that displaced people entering [Europe] from other countries, including Ukraine, seeking international protection may be vulnerable to developing infectious diseases,” officials said in the document.

In an executive summary, Minister Donnelly was informed that national uptake for the MMR vaccine was below 90 percent and that the risk of transmission of the disease was “very high”.