IT is more than 20 years since Dr Andrew Wakefield's now discredited Lancet paper was published, claiming a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism and bowel disease.

The study, published 10 years after the triple vaccine was first introduced in the UK in 1988, had a major impact on public confidence and thousands of patients subsequently refused to have their toddlers immunised.

Read more: Mother who lost depressed son to suicide said he 'didn't know how to cope'

By 2004, uptake had fallen to 80 per cent in England and 78% in Wales.

Scotland was impacted to a lesser degree by the health scare, but the proportion of children who had been given both rounds of the MMR vaccine by aged five fell to around 85% - well short of the World Health Organisation's target of 95% necessary to confer herd immunity to the population and curtail outbreaks.

Since then, the hypothesis of any causal link between MMR and autism has been repeatedly debunked - research has even shown slightly higher rates of autism among vaccinated than non-vaccinated children.

Read more: Edinburgh Science Festival - is gut bacteria driving surge in depression

Dr Wakefield, meanwhile, was left disgraced after the General Medical Council found him guilty of dishonesty and abuse of developmentally delayed children in relation to the study and stripped him of his right to practise medicine in the UK.

In 2011, the original research was dubbed an "elaborate fraud" in an editorial in the British Medical Journal which had allegedly been motivated by the prospect of launching a business for medical tests off the back of MMR scaremongering.

However, Dr Wakefield stands by his claims of a link and has continued to deny any hoax or wrongdoing.

In recent years, however, social media, blogging and online video sharing has proved fertile ground for anti-vaxxers.

Read more: WHO says anti-vaxx movement contributing to rise in measles cases

While Scotland appears more resistant to pseudoscience than other nations - our MMR double vaccination rate by age five stands at 91.2% compared to 87.2% in England, and we recorded just 33 confirmed cases of measles in the four years from 2015 to 2018 compared to the thousands gripping many European countries including France and Italy in 2018 alone - we cannot be complacent.

Achieving 95% MMR uptake will be crucial to protecting our children from diseases that can be life-changing and even fatal - and which, tragically, we had once almost eradicated.