’The reason soon emerged: fear of autism, a condition that does not have a specific name in the Somali language.‘I had never even heard of it although I come from a medical family,’ says Anab Gulaid, a Somali-American health researcher.And they are growing in strength, their bogus claims inflamed by the US President who backs their anti-establishment stance and has personally endorsed the reviled ex-doctor.Wakefield was even at Donald Trump’s inauguration ball earlier this year.At least one of the meetings was held in Safari, a well-known Somali restaurant.A state public health official attempted to attend but claimed she was prevented from entering the room by a guard armed with a gun.‘It was an easy sell for Wakefield,’ says Gulaid.But the US outbreak is a warning about the frailty of such success – for the illness was declared eliminated there in 2000 and across all the Americas last year.Minnesota shows the dangers posed by the anti-vaccination movement, especially since critics suggest Wakefield played a part by holding secret meetings there.‘I know measles takes lives because I have seen it,’ says Stinchfield, senior director of infection control at Children’s Minnesota hospital.
But over the subsequent decade, immunisation rates suddenly began to slide – from 92 per cent of this population in 2004 to just 42 per cent by 2014.
The 25,000-strong Somali community feared it was being struck by a Western affliction.
‘We did not know of autism before,’ says Mariam, a mother of four.‘Many families stopped giving their children MMR.’They had stumbled upon Wakefield’s discredited claims, which were being fuelled online by alarmed parents of autistic children, alternative practitioners and conspiracy theorists.
And the British Medical Journal concluded his work was fraudulent with data manipulated. A populist movement was taking off in the US that heralded him as a martyr being hounded by the mainstream medical establishment.
Hollywood stars including Robert De Niro and Jim Carrey have joined the anti-vaccine cause.