Vaccinating our children is a routine part of protecting them from illness in childhood - but a new book queries whether it is worth the risk.Dr Andrew Wakefield, who challenged the safety of the MMR vaccine because of fears over a possible link to autism, is currently fighting to save his career, meanwhile the Government insists vaccines are essential and save millions of lives.

The result is that many parents are anxious and confused about the best course of action.

And now another doctor, Dr Richard Halvorsen, raises his concerns - warning that the Government "misleads us about vaccines".

Author of a new book, The Truth About Vaccines, he claims that UK children are being used as "guinea pigs" and given "unnecessary" jabs for illnesses such as mumps, and a vaccine for whooping cough which has been "ineffective" in stamping out the illness.

Halvorsen is a GP who has spent five years researching vaccination.

He said: "Vaccine programmes are not the magic bullet cure that they are claimed to be, and bombarding children with a cocktail of vaccines could be causing some serious health problems, with hundreds if not thousands of children adversely affected every year."

Dr Halvorsen points out that a child is supposed to have 25 vaccines by the time they are 15 months old.

"There remains uncertainty whether the growing number of childhood vaccinations is contributing to the rising numbers of children affected by asthma, diabetes and other immune related disorders," he claimed.

"One vaccine expert disclosed to me that we will probably never be able to test the safety of vaccines while we bundle so many of them together and administer them at the same time.

"This means it's almost impossible to distinguish the side effects of one from another."

Father-of-two Dr Halvorsen began his investigation after getting a request to write an article on the MMR vaccination.

"Until then I had no particular opinion on vaccines and routinely gave them to my patients' children and my own, and felt secure in the knowledge that they were safe.

"Yet when I researched and tried to get the Government's side of the story on MMR, instead of being reassured, which I expected, I was dismayed to find that evidence showing it was safe was simply not there. It had been introduced with virtually no safety controls at all."

He believes vaccine risks are not properly assessed because, unlike drugs, vaccines generally do not undergo long-term safety trials.

"I have been told that there is no one study that can disprove that MMR may cause 10 per cent of autism cases in this country in susceptible children. Studies can show that MMR does not cause all autism.

"That's not good enough, and when I found that out I offered patients measles, mumps and rubella vaccines singly."

All too often he says parents' understandable concerns are met with unacceptable reactions and hostility by health authorities and doctors.

"I've heard stories of parents trying to decide whether to vaccinate their children being patronised and bullied and even told it was the equivalent of abusing their child if they didn't opt for a vaccine."

But he emphasises: "I am not anti- vaccination. They have an important role in the protection of children.

"I am in favour of some, while with others I believe they are not as effective as they are made out to be.

"All I'm calling for is the right for parents to have a truthful and open discussion on this issue."