Vaxxed

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Vaxxed
File:Vaxxed poster.jpg
Film poster
Directed by Andrew Wakefield
Produced by Del Bigtree
Written by Andrew Wakefield
Del Bigtree
Distributed by Cinema Libre Studio
Release dates
  • April 1, 2016 (2016-04-01)
Running time
91 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe is a 2016 American anti-vaccination film about the alleged cover up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of a purported link between the MMR vaccine and autism.[1][2] According to Variety, the film "purports to investigate the claims of a senior scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who revealed that the CDC had allegedly manipulated and destroyed data on an important study about autism and the MMR vaccine";[3] critics derided it as an anti-vaccine propaganda film.[4][5][6][7] The film was directed by discredited anti-vaccine activist Andrew Wakefield, who committed scientific fraud under an undisclosed financial conflict of interest, for which his license to practice medicine in the United Kingdom was revoked.[1][8][9] It was scheduled to premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival before being withdrawn by the festival.[10]

Background

Further information: MMR vaccine controversy

In 1998 Wakefield published a study in The Lancet suggesting that vaccines caused autism. In 2010 the study was retracted, and Wakefield's UK medical license was revoked due to "ethical violations and a failure to disclose financial conflicts of interest" and for his invention of evidence linking the MMR vaccine to autism.[1][11] A substantial body of subsequent research has established that there is no link between vaccines and autism.[12][13][14] Wakefield went on to become a leader in the anti-vaccination movement that his discredited study helped create.[15]

Del Bigtree, a producer of Vaxxed, was formerly a producer of The Doctors, a daytime US talk show.[16] The British Medical Journal conducted a study on The Doctors and The Dr Oz Show and concluded with this warning about the shows: "Consumers should be skeptical about any recommendations provided ... as details are limited and only a third to one half of recommendations are based on believable or somewhat believable evidence".[17]

The movie was produced by Autism Media Channel,[3] of which Wakefield is a director.[18]

Narrative

File:CDC Vaccine Information Statement for MMR Vaccine.pdf
CDC Info Statement for MMR Vaccine, 2012 - Challenged in film.

According to Variety, the film "purports to investigate the claims of a senior scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who revealed that the CDC had allegedly manipulated and destroyed data on an important study about autism and the MMR vaccine."[3] The film features the so-called "CDC whistleblower" narrative that is based on anti-vaccination activist[16] and associate professor Brian Hooker's paper describing claims by senior CDC scientist William Thompson that he and his co-authors had omitted mention of a correlation they found between vaccination and autism in African-American boys in a CDC study. Thompson's claimed correlations are reported likely to be biologically implausible and probably spurious.[19] The film contains edited excerpts of several phone calls between Hooker and Thompson recorded without Thompson's knowledge.[16][20] Hooker's 2014 paper on the narrative was subsequently retracted due to "serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions"[21][22] and in 2015 the CDC had confirmed that any such initial correlation had ceased to exist once they performed a more in-depth analysis of the children in the study.[23]

These sometimes spliced-together[23] unauthorized phone recordings of Thompson, according to the Houston Press, form the "crux of the entire movie... And...that’s it".[24] On the "CDC whistleblower" narrative, Dr. Philip LaRussa, a professor of paediatric medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, said the film-makers "were saying, there’s this silver bullet here, and the CDC is hiding it, and no one else has looked at this issue, which is not the case".[25] Thompson does not appear in the film and did not see it before it was released.[15] Thompson had released a statement on the controversy in 2014 which the New York Times discussed in its coverage of Vaxxed; the Times described it as "saying that while he questioned the 2004 study’s presentation of some data, he would never advise people not to get vaccinated."[15][26]

Premiere

The film had been scheduled to premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival but this was the subject of public outcry and widespread criticism, particularly for allowing Wakefield to distribute his discredited theories.[27][28][29][30] Actor Robert De Niro, who co-founded the festival, initially defended the decision to show the film, writing on Facebook that the film was "very personal" to him due to him having a child with autism,[31] and saying that he hoped the film would open a dialog about the controversy.[31] But shortly before the evening of March 26 De Niro announced that the film would not screen, stating that consultation with other film festival representatives, and members of the scientific community, had led him to conclude that screening the film would not contribute to or further the discussion of the topic presented.[10][32]

After the film was dropped, it was picked up for distribution by Cinema Libre.[3] The film premiered at the Angelika Film Center in New York on April 1, 2016[33] to an audience of "a few dozen."[34]

In reaction to Cinema Libre's decision to distribute the film, Todd Drezner, the father of an autistic son and creator of a neurodiversity-themed movie that was distributed by Cinema Libre, wrote an open letter to Cinema Libre criticizing Vaxxed and Cinema Libre's decision to distribute it, writing: "By releasing Vaxxed, Cinema Libre is actively harming thousands of autistic people. While we should be discussing ways to best support autistic people and help them lead fulfilling lives, you would instead have us follow a discredited scientist and dishonest filmmaker down a rabbit hole that leads only to long-debunked conspiracy theories. I am profoundly disappointed."[35][36]

De Niro appeared on The Today Show after withdrawing the film, and said: "I think the movie is something that people should see. There’s a lot of information about things that are happening with the CDC, the pharmaceutical companies, there’s a lot of things that are not said. I, as a parent of a child who has autism, I’m concerned. And I want to know the truth. I’m not anti-vaccine. I want safe vaccines".[37]

Reception

"In his film debut, Wakefield has cast himself as the victim of a massive conspiracy to hide the truth... What drove Wakefield from being a respected researcher to a conspiracy theorist?"'

Paul Offit in Hollywood Reporter.[38]

Documentary director Penny Lane stated:

Issues around truth and ethics in documentary can get thorny. But this one is easy. This film is not some sort of disinterested investigation into the 'vaccines cause autism' hoax; this film is directed by the person who perpetuated the hoax.

— Penny Lane (director).[39]

A review by the health and science news-site Medical Daily states:

[Vaxxed] doesn’t care about convincing its audience with evidence. Instead, Wakefield, Hooker, and producer Del Bigtree run the viewer through a well-trod gauntlet of emotional pleas, context-free statistics ... and shadowy conspiracies, with Bigtree claiming that "all of television" has been bought out by the pharmaceutical industry.

— Ed Cara, the Medical Daily.[23]

Independent film news-site Indiewire concludes the film pushes an outrageous agenda, and says:

Wakefield's by-the-numbers approach to didactic storytelling relies on tons of random factoids positioned out of context to drive home his agenda. An end credit declares that "every seven minutes, a child in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism," the kind of tenuous data set that passes for hard evidence in Wakefield's bizarro universe.

— Eric Kohn, Indiewire.[4]

The film's review in Variety magazine describes it as a "slickly produced but scientifically dubious hodgepodge of free-floating paranoia" and warns of its:

anti-Big Pharma conspiracy mongering ... [which] too often resembles the kind of one-sided, paranoia-stoking agitprop that political activists construct to sanctify true believers and assault infidels. [Vaxxed] should be taken with several grains of industrial-strength salt.

— Joe Leydon, Film Critic Variety.[40]

Pediatrician Philip LaRussa stated that "Wakefield’s film acts as if his research had not been revealed as fraudulent and he had not lost his medical license" and noted:

[Wakefield] didn’t mention the fact that he lost his license in Great Britain, he didn’t mention the fact that [11] of his co-authors withdrew their names from his paper. He didn’t mention the fact that there was a series of investigative articles by [Sunday Times journalist] Brian Deer. None of that existed in this film.

— Vaxxed: an expert view on controversial film about vaccines and autism.[25]

The Houston Press described the film as a "tragic fraud",[24] noting:

The Booker, Wakefield and Bigtree segments are spliced with testimonials from parents describing their own ordeals with late-onset autism, which only points to another insidious aspect of Wakefield’s fraud. These interviews are heartbreaking. There may be few tragedies as great as a parent watching a child’s future rapidly contract. But it's another tragedy altogether to give these desperate mothers and fathers this straw at which to grasp.

— Pete Vonder Haar, Houston Press.[24]

Professor David Gorski calls the film's 'CDC whistleblower' affair "the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement" and in response asks:

... How on earth did this documentary full of antivaccine lies ... get into Tribeca?

— David H. Gorski, Oncologist & scientific watchdog - The LA Times.[11]

The Age newspaper critiques Wakefield's film Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe and states:

It's not a stretch to say that the title of this new film could well describe the shenanigans of Wakefield himself in the late `90s – the cover-up being the secret contract with lawyers who paid him to construct a case against the MMR, and the catastrophe, of course, the worldwide slump in vaccination... There is something profoundly ironic about Wakefield pointing to the commercial interests of the pharmaceutical industry or accusing the CDC of data manipulation when you consider his own undisclosed financial interests behind the 1998 Lancet study and his role in what has been called one of the most flagrant frauds in medical history.

— Sarah Gill, The Age, Melbourne Australia.[8]

See also

References

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  2. June, Laura (March 22, 2016). "Why Is an Anti-Vaccine Documentary by a Proven Quack Being Taken Seriously?". New York Magazine. Retrieved April 1, 2016. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 McNary, Dave (March 29, 2016). "Controversial Anti-Vaccination Documentary Gets Release From Cinema Libre (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety (magazine). Retrieved April 4, 2016. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Kohn, Eric (April 1, 2016). "'Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe' is Designed to Trick You (Review)". Indiewire. Retrieved April 3, 2016. 
  5. Senneset, Ingeborg (March 28, 2016). "Robert De Niro har gjort seg til vaksinemotstandernes nyttige idiot". Aftenposten (Norway). Retrieved April 22, 2016. 
  6. Senapathy, Kavin (March 28, 2016). "No Andrew Wakefield, You're Not Being Censored And You Don't Deserve Due Process". Forbes. Retrieved April 22, 2016. 
  7. Gorski, David (Orac) (March 25, 2016). "Mystery solved: It was Robert De Niro who got Andrew Wakefield’s antivaccine propaganda film selected for screening at the Tribeca Film Festival". Respectful Insolence. Retrieved April 2, 2016. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Gill, Sarah (April 27, 2016). "Anti-immunisation movie Vaxxed is a platform for its maker, not its message". The Age (Vic. Australia). Retrieved April 27, 2016. 
  9. . (February 3, 2010). "The Lancet's Vaccine Retraction". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 4, 2016. (Subscription required (help)). 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Rosen, Christopher (March 26, 2016). "Tribeca Film Festival: Vaxxed pulled from schedule". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved March 26, 2016. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Hiltzik, Michael (March 25, 2016). "Column: How Robert De Niro's Tribeca Film Festival sold out to anti-vaccine crackpots [UPDATED]". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 26, 2016. 
  12. Demicheli V, Rivetti A, Debalini MG, Di Pietrantonj C (February 2012). "Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in children". Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2: CD004407. PMID 22336803. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004407.pub3. 
  13. Taylor LE, Swerdfeger AL, Eslick GD (June 2014). "Vaccines are not associated with autism: an evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies". Vaccine. 32 (29): 3623–9. PMID 24814559. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2014.04.085. 
  14. Maglione MA, Das L, Raaen L, et al. (August 2014). "Safety of vaccines used for routine immunization of U.S. children: a systematic review". Pediatrics. 134 (2): 325–37. PMID 25086160. doi:10.1542/peds.2014-1079. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Ryzik, Melena (March 30, 2016). "Pulled From Festival, Anti-Vaccination Film Will Run in Theater". New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2016. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Scheck, Frank (April 1, 2016). "'Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 3, 2016. 
  17. Koronyk, C.; et al. (December 17, 2014). "Televised medical talk shows-what they recommend and the evidence to support their recommendations: a prospective observational study". The British Medical Journal. doi:10.1136/bmj.g7346. Retrieved March 3, 2016. 
  18. Hannaford, Alex (April 2, 2013). "Andrew Wakefield: autism inc". The Guardian. Retrieved April 4, 2016. 
  19. . (August 26, 2014). "Bad Medicine - Claim: Data suppressed by the CDC proved that the MMR vaccine produces a 340% increased risk of autism in African-American boys. FALSE". Snopes. Retrieved March 28, 2016. 
  20. Robins, Rebecca (April 1, 2016). "We watched the movie ‘Vaxxed’ so you don’t have to". Stat News. Retrieved April 2, 2016. 
  21. . (August 27, 2014). "Journal takes down autism-vaccine paper pending investigation". Retraction Watch. Retrieved March 28, 2016. 
  22. Park, Alice (August 29, 2014). "Journal Retracts Paper that Questioned CDC Autism Study". Time (magazine). Retrieved March 28, 2016. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Cara, Ed (April 4, 2016). "Controversial Documentary 'Vaxxed' Premiered In NYC This Weekend; We Decided To See It". Medical Daily. Retrieved April 4, 2016. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Vonder Haar, Pete (April 7, 2016). "Anti-Vaccination Doc Vaxxed, Booted From Tribeca, Is a Tragic Fraud". Houston Press. Retrieved April 7, 2016. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Glenza, Jessica (April 2, 2016). "Vaxxed: an expert view on controversial film about vaccines and autism". The Guardian. Retrieved April 2, 2016. 
  26. Thompson, William W. (August 27, 2014). "Press Release, Statement of William W. Thompson, Ph.D., Regarding the 2004 Article Examining the Possibility of a Relationship Between MMR Vaccine and Autism". Morgan Verkamp LLC. Archived from the original on August 28, 2014. Retrieved April 26, 2016. 
  27. Alessandra, Potenza (March 25, 2016). "The Tribeca Film Festival is screening an anti-vaccine documentary". The Verge. Retrieved March 26, 2016. 
  28. Merlan, Annie (March 25, 2016). "Robert De Niro Defends Anti-Vax Film Screening at Tribeca; Says It Will Allow for 'Conversation'". Jezebel (website). Retrieved March 26, 2016. 
  29. Haelle T (March 25, 2016). "Robert DeNiro Just Broke My Heart". Forbes. Retrieved March 26, 2016. 
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  33. Lipkin, W. Ian (April 3, 2016). "Anti-Vaccination Lunacy Won’t Stop". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 4, 2016. (Subscription required (help)). 
  34. Glenza, Jessica (April 3, 2016). "Controversial Vaxxed film premieres in New York despite scientists' outcry". The Guardian. Retrieved April 3, 2016. 
  35. Drezner, Todd (March 30, 2016). "Todd Drezner's Open Letter to Cinema Libre Studio Regarding "Vaxxed"". Thinking Person's Guide To Autism. Retrieved April 4, 2016. 
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  37. Lee, Benjamin (April 13, 2016). "Robert De Niro: 'I'm not anti-vaccine, I want safe vaccines'". The Guardian. Retrieved April 26, 2016. 
  38. Offit, Paul (April 11, 2016). "Anti-Vaccine Doc 'Vaxxed': A Doctor's Film Review". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 11, 2016. 
  39. Grinberg, Emanuella (March 27, 2016). "Robert De Niro pulls anti-vaccine film from Tribeca after controversy". CNN. Retrieved March 31, 2016. 
  40. Leydon, Joe (April 3, 2016). "Film Review: 'Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe'". Variety (magazine). Retrieved April 22, 2016. 

External links