As a child in the Sixties I endured most of the common diseases, measles, mumps and rubella, commonly known then as German measles.

I missed the vaccines for these illnesses by a few years. The measles vaccine was introduced in 1963 followed by mumps in 1967 and rubella in 1969.

With the introduction of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) combined vaccine in 1971 many common childhood illnesses were successfully on the road to being eradicated.

Then, in 1998, Andrew Wakefield, a former doctor, declared a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. His “study” was conducted on just 12 children. It turned out his methods were very flawed. He had acted unethically in collecting samples and data from children, and he was wrong.

There isn’t and never has been a link between MMR and autism. This has been proven by many proper scientific and medical studies since.

The fact that vaccinations are given prior to the emergence of indications of autism is quite simply an unrelated coincidence. To think vaccines cause autism is like thinking children’s ability in maths is related to their shoe size, the bigger the shoe size the better they are at maths. If we test children, we do indeed see their maths getting better as their shoe size increases – there is a correlation.

But that’s only because children get better at maths as they get older and learn more (and, of course, their feet grow). As we say in research, a correlation between two things does not mean one causes or affects the other.

Wakefield’s incorrect assumption led to many failing to vaccinate their children and the diseases started to rise again.

The situation had improved during the past 20 years to the point where the World Health Organisation declared the UK as having eliminated rubella in 2016 and measles in 2017. But in 2018 measles came back and it is now a growing problem.

Nationally MMR vaccination rates are 87.6 per cent and Brighton and Hove is below this at 84.4 per cent. Measles is highly infectious and easily spread through coughs and sneezes. It can in a minority of cases develop serious problems for those infected ranging from pneumonia, brain swelling, damage to the immune system, hearing loss and, in some cases, death.

To eliminate a disease you need to develop herd immunity. This can be achieved in two ways. One is to develop natural immunity by catching the disease and letting your body fight the virus.

Gathering children together knowing one is infected to pass the disease on is a dangerous and irresponsible method of gaining herd immunity. A much less risky way would be to get vaccinated. To achieve that we need 90 per cent plus of the population to develop immunity by making antibodies to fight the diseases.

Those who are against vaccines often do not understand fully how immunity or vaccines work. It’s true to say that in Victorian times, the early days of vaccine production, they could cause issues, sometimes death. But the Victorian medical profession’s lack of knowledge and understanding of immunity and, more importantly, genetics explains why that happened.

Today, vaccines are very safe. Over the past 60 plus years, millions of people worldwide have had many different vaccines. This resulted in several diseases being suppressed, even eradicated in many countries with millions of lives saved. Statistically there have been very few issues. No medical procedure, vaccine or medicine can ever be 100 per cent safe of course that’s impossible.

Vaccines are made in various ways. One is to use a sample of the disease made safe by deactivating or disabling it. When this modified disease is injected, it stimulates the body’s immune system to create antibodies. These lock on to the surface of a virus or bacteria and this prevents it from entering our cells. Should you subsequently catch the active unaltered virus or bacteria your body recognises it and the antibodies destroy it.

Another vaccine method stimulates your body to produce a small harmless part of a virus (eg a Covid protein spike), which is a distinctive shape. This is seen by the body as an invader and antibodies are produced.

Parents have several choices to make for their children. MMR is just one. Naturally, parents talk to each other so group “MMR talk” is common. It can be positive but it can also spread fake information about vaccines. Vaccinating your child so others may also benefit from herd immunity is not normally the primary reason but doing it is vital. Ignore the constant noise of anti-vaxxers and their conspiracy theorist ideas, it potentially damages not just unvaccinated children but society as a whole.

Dr James Williams is a senior lecturer in education at the University of Sussex