There’s nothing about Trump’s America that surprises me anymore. In fact, whenever I think about what would be a good and proper thing for a responsible world leader and massively powerful and influential country to do, I am met with the exact opposite. Trump and the people around him appear to be doing the extreme moral opposite to what I would deem as good.
Andrew Wakefield is infamous in the skeptic community and is shunned in the medical and scientific communities in the UK. He linked the MMR vaccine to autism and was subsequently debunked very publicly, but the damage is still being reaped.
But Trump has ripped up the rulebook. As The Guardian reports:
But there he is. Wakefield was all but drummed out of Britain. The gastroenterologist lost his job, had his scientific paper linking the MMR vaccine and autism retracted by medical journal the Lancet and, in 2010, was struck off the medical register. He disappeared to the US and it was assumed he had gone to ground, having lost all credibility. He was a spent force, even though his name was often in the air as the anti-MMR views he seeded around the world led to many parents shunning the vaccine and outbreaks of measles wherever anyone had heard Wakefield’s creed.
He went underground in Texas and laid low. Until now; until Trump.
back in the limelight and his new visibility could give his arguments even more currency. At one of President Trump’s inaugural balls in January last year, he was quoted as contemplating the overthrow of the (pro-vaccine) US medical establishment in words that brought to mind Trump himself. “What we need now is a huge shakeup at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – a huge shakeup. We need that to change dramatically.”…
This week, it became clear that Wakefield has been accepted by celebrity-smitten US society. Separated from Carmel, the wife who was staunchly at his side throughout the UK debacle, he is now dating Elle Macpherson, a supermodel with her own nutrition brand. He was photographed this week kissing her on an organic farm in Miami.
In fact, Wakefield never did run and hide. From the very beginning, he had supporters who hailed him as a hero victimised by the medical establishment in the UK which, they believed, was in hock to big pharma. The perpetual cry of the anti-vaxxers is that you can’t trust the drug industry – which is only interested in profits and not people – to tell you the truth.
If Wakefield ever had the normal uncertainties of a scientist embarking on research, wondering what their investigations will prove, that must have been pulverised by the avalanche of criticism over the Lancet study. He and those around him now believe there is a massive conspiracy to force vaccines upon our children, driven and funded by the wealthy pharmaceutical companies and those who take their shilling.
Many worried parents in the US and Europe continue to shun the MMR vaccine, fearful that it could precipitate autism in their child in spite of all the reassurances of the World Health Organization and public health authorities around the world. An outbreak of measles in Minnesota in the spring of last year was caused by doubts about the MMR vaccine in the local American-Somali community, who had seen the incidence of autism rise. Wakefield had been a visitor to the community six or seven years earlier, talking to them about the risk of autism.
Worldwide last year, measles cases soared in Europe, according to the WHO. There was a four-fold increase during 2017 with large outbreaks in one in four countries. Festivalgoers were urged to get the jab, after infection rates in England tripled in a year. “Over 20,000 cases of measles, and 35 lives lost in 2017 alone, are a tragedy we simply cannot accept,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO regional director for Europe, at the time. Romania, Italy and the Ukraine were worst hit.
Loss of confidence in the MMR vaccine, which is very effective, was blamed. There are ambitions to wipe out measles from the planet, but that will not be possible while confidence in the immunisation programmes is undermined. Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance says vaccination in developed countries has never fully recovered since Wakefield’s initial claims, and that “the anti-vaccination campaigners he continues to spearhead” are “endangering the health of children across the world”.
The internet and social media have spread vaccine doubts and conspiracy theories around the world. Wakefield has said so himself. Social media has provided an alternative to the “failings of mainstream media”, he has said – another phrase that could have come from a tweet by the US president himself. “In this country, it’s become so polarised now … No one knows quite what to believe,” Wakefield said. “So, people are turning increasingly to social media.”
He has founded the Strategic Autism Initiative and the Autism Media Channel in Austin, which makes videos asserting a link between autism and the MMR vaccine.
As the Independent reported:
The president claimed during a 2015 Republican debate that the child of an employee developed autism after receiving a vaccine, asserting a link that has been stridently disputed by the British and US governments’ leading experts and numerous peer-reviewed papers.
“You take this little, beautiful baby and you pump – I mean it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child,” Trump said, without providing further details.
In the summer of 2016, Wakefield was one of four anti-vaccine campaigners Trump met for 45 minutes, and he also attended one of his inauguration balls after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. After he entered the White House, Trump is said to have considered appointing another vaccine sceptic, Robert F Kennedy, to head a commission to look into their safety. That idea currently appears stalled.
Asked about his meeting with Trump, Wakefield said: “I met him once before the election, when he was running for the presidency. We had a meeting in Florida. We were there, four of us representing the issue of autism and its link to immunisation.
“He interjected and said, ‘You don’t need to tell me that vaccines cause autism. I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it personally’. We went on to discuss the issue of the autism crisis that is set to affect 80 per cent of boys if nothing is done. He said if he was to be elected he’d do something about it.”
Asked if he was seeking to seize on the issue in the US because he had been disgraced in Britain, Wakefield, said: “I was discredited in the eyes of those who wanted to see me discredited. In other words, those who had an interest in maintaining the status quo.
None of this is good news.