Mercury will be banned from vaccines given to babies, the Department of Health said last night amid fears of links between the metal and autism.

Doctors nationwide are being contacted over changes to the infant vaccine programme for eight-week-old children. They are also being told to switch from a live polio vaccine taken orally to an injection to avoid rare cases of contamination. The inoculations will be replaced by a five-in-one jab at two months of age.

The changes are expected to take place next month. The new inoculation will combat diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hib and polio.

The whooping cough vaccine had contained a form of mercury called thiomersal.

John Hutton, a health minister, said: "I can confirm that later this year we will be introducing a new form of childhood vaccination for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, Hib and polio."