-Contributing Editor-

Photos: Haroon Rajaee
Attendees line up to ask questions of panelists during a May 7 screening of the documentary, “Vaxxed” and town hall meeting at Mosque Maryam in Chicago.

CHICAGO–Tears streamed down the cheeks of Maisha Muhammad as she spoke of her son Elijah, who started to exhibit signs of autism around his second birthday.

The infant had been doing so well, she told an audience May 7 at Mosque Maryam at the National Center, headquarters of the Nation of Islam. He had started walking at six months. The closer he got to two years of age he stopped responding to his name, she said haltingly. He stopped trying to talk. He would lay in his crib silent for hours

“He was a shell of the beautiful child I once adored. This has been my reality for the last 16 years,” she sobbed. “I have been looking for answers all of this time.”


 Mothers and fathers like Maisha found answers on this cool night on the South Side of Chicago. They had come to the mosque to view a controversial documentary, “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” which examines the link between the development of autism in infants who receive the Mumps, Measles and Rubella (MMR) vaccine during the prescribed 12 to 18 months of age. The significant thing that happened to Elijah prior to his second birthday is he received the MMR vaccine.

The film has caused tremors in the medical community, particularly since it documents an alleged cover-up of evidence that Black boys who receive the vaccine at the prescribed age developed autism at an alarming rate.

That data was purposely excluded from the final 2004 published study by CDC scientists, according to the film, and was only revealed a decade later by study co-author and CDC scientist Dr. William Thompson, who has since gained whistleblower protection status from the federal government.

Dr. Thompson has expressed a desire to be subpoenaed to testify before Congress about his allegations, but legislators appear to be afraid to touch the issue.

On hand for the screening were Dr. Brian Hooker and Del Bigtree. Dr. Hooker is a scientist who Dr. Thompson confided in about the cover-up and who also examined the original findings of the study. Bigtree produced the film.

Both men said the purpose of the film is to reveal the cover-up and to warn the community of the raised levels of autism in Black boys. They suggested that vaccines should be given at an older age, if a parent chooses to vaccinate a child, and that measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations should be given in single doses rather than the three in one MMR vaccination.

However, “12 to 18 months is actually the most dangerous time for African American boys to receive MMR,” Mr. Bigtree said.

They also participated in a town hall discussion following the screening along with panelist Los Angeles-based Student Minister Tony Muhammad, Western Regional Representative of the Nation of Islam.  

From cover-up to a documentary

The story unfolds through the experiences of four main characters, Dr. Hooker, Mr. Bigtree, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British scientist who opened the door to the question of a relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism who directed the film, and Dr. Thompson, who is not seen on screen but his voice and words play a critical role in exposing the evidence of the alleged cover-up.

The film opens with television news clips of reporters blaring news about a 2014 measles outbreak in the U.S. and calls by celebrities and authorities for more vaccinations. Spokespersons also are shown debunking the notion that vaccines cause autism.

It is peppered with testimonies and anecdotes from other scientists and medical officials, as well as heart breaking stories from parents whose children went from being normal to being non-attentive, seemingly lifeless versions of their former selves.

A White mother talks about sitting in bed at nights with her husband and listening to the “thud, thud, thud” of her child banging his head against a wall.

A Black mother talks about taking her twin infants to the doctor and seeing six needles in a tray. Her daughter gets a shot but becomes unsettled and while the mom is attending to her, the nurse gives her son a shot. Ultimately, the girl didn’t get the MMR shot but the boy did and became autistic.

Years later the girl became fluent in three languages, is an A student and plays classical piano. The boy has serious developmental issues.

“With all of the guilt I feel from that day, one of the best decisions I made for [my daughter] was to walk out of that office and not let her be vaccinated,” the mom says.

Many of the parents in the film became autism advocates, going on media shows and even starting their own publications to draw attention to the issue.

Dr. Wakefield first raised the question about the relationship between autism and vaccines after studying a 1987 outbreak of meningitis in infants who received the MMR vaccine in Canada. The vaccine was then banned in Canada but began being used in Europe until it was banned there. It then was shipped to Africa and other developing countries where outbreaks of meningitis soon followed.

Dr. Wakefield eventually was discredited in the medical community because of his unyielding aggressiveness to get the vaccine-autism issue investigated.

In this Jan. 29, 2015 file photo, a pediatrician holds a dose of the measlesmumps- rubella (MMR) vaccine at his practice in Northridge, Calif.

“The CDC doesn’t study vaccines proactively,” Dr. Hooker says on the film. “If Wakefield had never done his original study published in Lancet (medical journal), we would have never created the uproar it created and the CDC would have never studied this.”

Dr. Hooker, whose 18-year-old son is autistic, became involved when he got a phone call from Dr. Thompson. Dr. Hooker recorded the calls as the CDC scientist guided him through the process of how to legally acquire a “treasure trove” of CDC documents that Dr. Thompson could not legally release.

According to the film, scientists working on a study must agree on an analysis plan to report their findings. In this case, CDC scientists deviated from the analysis plan in order to produce results that reduce the autism effect on Black boys.

“I have waited a long time to tell this story,” says a voice reading Dr. Thompson’s words. “We can’t be trusted to be transparent. The CDC can’t be trusted to police itself.”

A former Merck pharmaceuticals sales representative reveals how the company manipulated data that hid evidence that the drug Vioxx elevated the risk of heart attacks and strokes. “What I learned from that experience is just because something is on the market it doesn’t mean it’s safe,” she says.

The gold standard test for pharmaceutical drugs, according to the film, is a double blind, placebo-based, long term study which isn’t done with vaccines because of the way they are classified. Also, vaccines aren’t tested in combination with other vaccines, yet doctors can give two or more vaccines per visit.

The film also shows the power of big pharmaceutical companies that pushed Congress to pass laws that prevent them from being sued for injuries to people who use their drugs. Instead, victims must appeal to “Vaccine Courts” for redress, where the pharmaceutical companies do not have to participate.

Boy babies and scripture

Mr. Bigtree, a journalist affiliated with “The Doctors” television show, said the original MMR study was to last seven months but ended up taking several years because of the secret meetings where scientists discussed how to reveal the findings in a way to hide the impact on Black boys.

The film closes with Mr. Bigtree asking Dr. Rachel Ross of the “The Doctors” what she would do the next time a parent asks if a child should get the MMR vaccine.

“I will tell her, honestly I’m not going to give the MMR vaccine to my babies and here’s why,” she replies.

As the credits rolled down the screen at the end of the film, a long line was forming with people wanting to ask questions in a conversation that would be moderated by radio talk show host Cliff Kelley of WVON 1690AM.

Relating the CDC plan to scripture and the plans of King Herod and Pharaoh of Egypt to destroy Black boys, Student Minister Ishmael Muhammad, National Assistant to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan told the crowd, “That was a painful documentary to watch, to know that every seven minutes a child is being diagnosed with autism. The plan is to cull the population by two to three million,” he said. “This is not some conspiracy theory or reckless paranoia. This is actually happening. This story has to be told, whatever it takes to put this out.”

Student Min. Tony Muhammad said Minister Farrakhan asked him to talk to U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) who heads the congressional committee that oversees the CDC. The Nation of Islam, through Min. Farrakhan’s call, has been instrumental in rallying the Black community to protest at CDC headquarters in Atlanta, drawing national attention to the issue.

Student Minister Tony Muhammad said the congressman initially was motivated to look into the whistleblower issue, but returned “with a cracking and trembling” in his voice saying only that he supports vaccines.

When the Nation of Islam Student Minister pushed him on the issue of calling the whistleblower before Congress because he had to report back to Min. Farrakhan, the congressman said, “Then do what you got to do. I’m not touching it, and hung up,” he said.

The high energy of the meeting didn’t die as people filed out of the mosque.

Patricia Withers, who is White and is a member of the Illinois Vaccine Awareness Coalition, said she heard about the event through a community newspaper. The autism community has been energized by having the Black community involved, she said.

“The energy of this space and your (N.O.I.) community is healing to my heart,” she said. “I didn’t know much about the Nation of Islam but I feel welcomed and very connected. I feel on fire.”

Khafre Watkins of nearby Des Plaines said it didn’t make sense that people had to take so many vaccines, but he had no idea that some populations could be targeted whether intentionally or accidentally. He is suspicious about the relationship between insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies.

“There’s a vicious circle of companies involved in this,” he said. “That must be explored as well.”

Dolphn Norris said the meeting “was a wakeup call. It’s time for us to do a detox.”

“This confirmed a lot for me about why a lot of our young men are killing each other. They’re the babies that have been vaccinated and now they’re 18 and 19 years old and their minds are all messed up,” he said.