Ministers are "fuelling the controversy" over health risks linked to the MMR vaccine by suppressing information about the decision to embark upon a national immunisation programme more than 20 years ago, the information watchdog has warned.

The Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has ordered the Department of Health to release a raft of 1988 documents under the Freedom of Information Act, saying that he believes it is in the public interest.

The Government had blocked requests for the information from the public on the grounds that disclosure could affect the commercial interests of pharmaceutical companies and could hinder future policy-making.

In 2007, measles cases in England and Wales hit a record high. The Health Protection Agency claimed it was spreading more easily because of the low uptake of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination after an unsubstantiated scare over the jab.

Yesterday the Information Commissioner's Office confirmed it had ruled against the Government under the Freedom of Information Act. The Government was given 35 days to release the requested material.

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