By Emma Wilkinson
BBC News, health reporter
Confidence in MMR vaccine fell in the late 1990s
Fears over the MMR vaccine are becoming a thing of the past, Department of Health figures suggest.
Around 74% of mothers now say the vaccine is safe or carries a slight risk, compared with 60% in 2002.
And the number of mothers who believe MMR carries a greater risk than the diseases it protects against has also dropped, a study in Vaccine shows.
Experts said the findings backed uptake figures which showed a turnaround in public confidence.
The figures were based on samples of 1,000 mothers.
The combined mumps, measles and rubella vaccine was linked to autism in a scientific paper by Dr Andrew Wakefield, published in the Lancet medical journal in 1998 - but the findings have since been discredited.
Public confidence fell, as did uptake in the vaccine, leading to fears that children would be vulnerable and there have been several reports in recent years of measles outbreaks.
But surveys of mothers' attitudes towards MMR vaccination carried out by the Department of Health between 1996 and 2006 have shown confidence is growing.
And the proportion of parents believing MMR is a greater risk than infection with measles, mumps or rubella fell from 24% in 2002 to 14% in 2006.
'Hard-core rejecters' of the vaccine only account for 6% of mothers, the figures show.
Previous experience with whooping cough has shown it can take a long time for public confidence to return after a vaccine scare.
Dr David Salisbury, director of immunisation for the Department of Health said: "This is good news and we are delighted to see the restoration of parental confidence in MMR, fully supported by scientific evidence on the safety of the vaccine.
"Immunisation coverage is also rising and I fully acknowledge the hard work of health professionals and parents."
Dr George Kassianos, vaccination spokesperson for the Royal College of GPs said: "Trust has increased tremendously in the past couple of years to the point where nobody now comes in and wants to discuss anything about MMR.
"The government was right not to give in to calls for single antigen vaccines."
He said at the time when Dr Wakefield's research came out the situation was "very bad".
Joanne White, from the Health Protection Agency immunisation team said: "This confidence is reflected in our figures which show that coverage is now up to 85.9%; the highest level recorded since March 2001.
"Our data also suggests that this trend should continue."
Dr Sam Everington, a GP in East London and Deputy Chairman of the BMA, said: "I have definitely seen an increased confidence amongst my patients regarding the MMR vaccine.
"I do not think there is one reason for this but a decrease in the number of mixed messages parents were getting about the vaccine has certainly helped."
Joff McGill of Sense, the National Deafblind and Rubella Association said: "We welcome the continuing rise in confidence in MMR. Since its introduction the number of rubella births has fallen dramatically.
"The success of MMR has led to many people forgetting the effects of these diseases.
"Catching rubella during pregnancy can lead to the baby being born with sight and hearing impairments."
But Jackie Fletcher of the campaign group, Jabs, said they still received calls from worried parents.
"The Department of Health has still not addressed the problems, they seem to be brushing them under the carpet."
She added parents should be able to choose to have the single vaccines.