As fears grow over a measles outbreak in Devon, parents are being urged to vaccinate their children against the disease, and investigative journalist Brian Deer believes reluctance to immunise children stems from parents wrongly believing the vaccine can cause autism.
13 cases of measles have been reported in a schol in Devon, with 10 more unconfirmed cases, and there have been 785 cases in Britian since the start of the year, up from 646 over the same period last year.
After Andrew Wakefield's 1998 paper suggested the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine can cause autism, many parents decided not to vaccinate their children against the disease.
Sunday Times journalist Deer, who has been looking into cases such as this since the 1990s, believes the report caused much more suffering than necessary.
"Humanity was on the edge of eradicating measles forever, so it's not just a question of children dying but also the suffering so many children have gone through with measles," he told Julia Hartley-Brewer.
"There is one other thing as well that is so often forgotten with these things in the vaccine scare: the suffering the parents go through, particularly mothers, that have been led to believe by this man Wakefield that it is their own fault that their child went on to get autism."
Deer also suggested other reasons why some parents may have been influenced by the study.
"You have to bear in mind in the second year of life a great mass of different neurological issues first emerge and are noticed by parents, and that is about the time vaccinations are given.
"I should also say that in my investigations I have found that a small number of parents who've been involved in various lawsuits do in fact lie," he added. "Why would you not lie if you have the possibility of winning nearly £3 million?"
He fears that parents who research the topic may now find unorthodox explanations on the internet, wrongly presented as scientific fact.
"I think it's parents for whom it's very important to believe that they are smarter than doctors," he explained. "They think they can go on the internet and investigate.
"It's created a marketplace where people with weird ideas – cranks, people who've got odd things to say about vaccines – can make contact with parents who are making honest enquiries to try and understand medical issues."