Andrew Wakefield: Anti-vax doctor’s deadly legacy

Andrew Wakefield: Anti-vax doctor’s deadly legacy

He holds some of the most dangerous ideas, but disgraced British former doctor Andrew Wakefield is living his best life in his adopted home of Houston, Texas.

Wakefield is the founding father of the anti-vax movement, a global crusade which has essentially reversed decades of medical progress.

Since fleeing to Texas ten years ago after UK authorities revoked his medical licence, Wakefield has seemingly had a profound effect on his local community.

Last year, Houston health officials revealed a shocking statistic: the rate of Texan children exempted from at least one vaccine had surged by a staggering 1,900 per cent since Wakefield’s arrival.

It was a repeat of what had happened back in 1998, when immunisation rates across the UK and Ireland plummeted after The Lancet published Wakefield’s research paper falsely linking the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism.

It did not take long for his findings, which were based on a survey of just 12 participants, to be scientifically discredited by numerous organisations worldwide.

But the damage was done, with the study feeding an irrational fear of the triple shot, spawning a generation of anti-vaxxers and the return of diseases which had been all but eradicated before Wakefield came along.

Despite having been found to have falsified data and banned from practising medicine, the charismatic Wakefield and his wife have had no trouble reinventing themselves in the US, where he makes a healthy living peddling his debunked theories.

He credits Facebook anti-vaccination groups with taking the movement to new heights and says support for his cause has never been stronger than it is now.

“Social media has evolved, as a general comment, has evolved beautifully,” Wakefield told The Guardian in 2018, adding the platform made up for the “failings of the mainstream media”.

“In this country, it’s become so polarised now … No one knows quite what to believe. So people are turning increasingly to social media.”

Since the early 2000s, Wakefield has pumped out two best-selling books — one featuring a forward by US actress, TV presenter and anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy.

He has denied accusations he was responsible for starting the anti-vax movement which has been blamed for a resurgence in diseases such as measles and cholera across Europe, North America, Asia and here in Australia.

Earlier this week we saw the human face of those statistics — and Wakefield’s terrible legacy — when a father-of-three whose 11-year-old son was linked to a measles outbreak in Canada, admitted he failed to immunise his children because of autism fears.

“We worried 10 to 12 years ago because there was a lot of debate around the MMR vaccine,” Emmanuel Bilodeau told Canadian news outlet CBC.

“Doctors were coming out with research connecting the MMR vaccine with autism, so we were a little concerned.”

Meanwhile, back in Texas, Wakefield has launched himself into politics, leading his thousands of supporters on a doorknocking, fundraising campaign aimed at getting anti-vaccine candidates into power.

“There are clearly a number of candidates running with this platform front and centre — vaccine choice, medical freedom,” Wakefield told the Guardian. “The members of Texans for Vaccine Choice have been very successful in their lobbying.”

In 2016, Wakefield released the movie Vaxxed, which he directed, in which he is portrayed as the whistleblower of a massive conspiracy by the British and American governments to cover up “the skyrocketing increase in autism and potentially the most catastrophic epidemic of our lifetime”.

That same year, he reportedly met with then-candidate Donald Trump, even scoring an invite to the president’s 2017 inaugural ball. Days after being sworn in, Trump called for a “vaccine safety commission”.

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