Andrew Wakefield appearance at Trump inaugural ball triggers social media backlash

Controversial vaccine skeptic Andrew Wakefield attended one of President Trump’s inaugural balls late Friday, prompting a flood of mostly negative reaction on social media, with many commenters raising concerns that his discredited ideas will gain traction in the new administration.

Wakefield, who launched the anti-vaccine movement with a fraudulent study linking vaccines to autism, posted a Periscope video from one of the balls, calling for an overhaul of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the video, a tuxedo-clad Wakefield strolls through the ball declaring it a “very exciting time” and briefly narrates his efforts to find influential people to talk to about his proposals. “Just looking around to see if there’s anyone important here — see if I can prevail upon them to make the world a better place for children with autism, a safer place for children,” Wakefield says. “What we need now is a huge shakeup at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a huge shakeup. We need that to change dramatically.”

Neither Wakefield nor a Trump spokesman could be immediately reached for comment Saturday.

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His short video triggered instantaneous reaction on Twitter, with many commenters seizing on it as an example of the kind of people and ideas that are finding a new audience in the Trump administration. Wakefield met with Trump over the summer and later said he found him to be sympathetic to his cause. Earlier this month, Trump also met with vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who announced he will be chairing a new federal panel on vaccine safety. Trump’s aides quickly pulled back the idea of such a panel, saying no final decisions have been made.

It is unclear whether Wakefield’s appearance at the ball indicates he holds any special sway in the Trump administration. Attendance at the balls is typically limited to invited guests and dignitaries, but people can also get tickets through lawmakers and other channels.

Wakefield became an influential leader in the anti-vaccine movement when he authored a study suggesting that the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines could cause autism. The paper was retracted by Lancet, and around the same time the UK’s medical regulator revoked Wakefield’s license for a series of ethical violations.

But he has continued to pursue his ideas in other venues. Wakefield directed and also appears in the film “Vaxxed,” which strikes a paranoid tone about the “medical industrial complex” and alleges an array of conspiracies to promote vaccines. The was pulled from the Tribeca film festival but was shown in at least nine cities, including Detroit, San Francisco, and New Orleans, since its premiere last April in New York. The new film is based on Wakefield’s 2010 book “Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines — The Truth Behind a Tragedy.”

Wakefield’s book, in which he frames himself as a truth-teller unfairly targeted by the medical establishment, has been thoroughly debunked.

“It is just terrible. If he handed it in as a term paper as an undergraduate, I wouldn’t pass him,” said Joel Harrison, a retired epidemiologist who wrote a journal article in 2013 rebutting the book’s claims, point by point.