SOMETIMES the best way to have your film screened across the country is to have it banned.
Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Controversy made headlines last spring after the Tribeca Film Festival pulled the documentary from its 2016 line-up, saying that other filmmakers had threatened to take their work out of the 15 year-old festival if it were included.
Directed by Andrew Wakefield, the film centers around the charge that findings from a study by the Center for Disease Control were tampered with, thereby suppressing evidence that linked a certain vaccine with autism.
Much of the ensuing publicity focused on discrediting that premise, calling it “pseudoscience” and citing public health officials who have debunked any connection between vaccines and the uptick in autism, which has risen from 1 in 150 children ages 3-17 in 2002 to the current statistic of 1 in 68.
In the critical crosshairs was Wakefield, the British gastroenterologist who co-published a 1998 study in the medical journal The Lancet that suggested the 3-in-1 measles, mumps and rubella vaccine causes autism. The study was retracted in 2010, and Wakefield was stripped of his medical credentials but has continued to advocate for more research in vaccine safety.
After being kicked out of Tribeca, grassroots support has encouraged the producers of Vaxxed to seek out alternative distribution options. Since partnering in June with Gathr.com, a theatrical on-demand service that arranges one-night showings after a certain threshold of reservations has been met, there have been over 570 screenings of Vaxxed booked nationwide.
Two screenings have already been green-lit for Savannah on August 1 and 8, with a third pending for Aug. 22 in Pooler.
Producer Del Bigtree was aware that taking on this controversial subject matter could be “career suicide,” but he felt compelled to make the film and bring it to the public.
“We all thought that this discussion was over, that the vaccine/autism link had been disproven and we could all move on,” he told ABC News World Report before the film was pulled.
“I know that’s what I believed until I heard this new information.”
That new information is a series of recorded phone calls with CDC vaccine scientist Dr. Bill Thompson, who co-authored the MMR safety study that is often referred to by pro-vaccination proponents as hallmark proof. In the calls, Dr. Thompson claims he was present for the destruction of research that proved a “causal relationship” between the MMR vaccine and autism.
“It’s the most compelling evidence of fraud I’ve ever seen,” said Bigtree, a former producer for the daytime TV show “The Doctors.”
“This is not an anti-vaccine movie. It’s about fraud, scientific fraud committed by the CDC.”
Dr. Thompson’s confession raises questions about whether the results of other vaccine studies may also be false. Those who have seen the film believe it presents a powerful case for further investigation.
“People base their belief that vaccines are safe on the fact that the CDC is infallible,” says local children’s health activist Kim Spencer.
“Yet here you have a CDC scientist whose name is on the very study they point to when they say vaccines are safe who’s calling it a fraud.”
While public officials and others vehemently dismiss any link between vaccines and the increase in autism-related disorders, many autism parents maintain that more than just the MMR science is faulty.
Spencer explains that many of those characterized as “anti-vax” are actually seeking more safety studies that focus on multiple vaccines, including the impact of the current immunization schedule.
The CDC recommended in 2016 that American children receive 48 doses of 14 vaccines before the age of 6, more than twice its 1983 recommendations of 22 doses of 7 vaccines. No study has been conducted evaluating the effect of giving up to 8 or 10 vaccines at once, as is often the case in busy pediatric practices.
Proponents hope that the information presented in Vaxxed will confirm the need for vaccine reform.
“Pediatricians, politicians, nurses, anyone who works with children’s health should come out and see it,” says Spencer.
“At least see if what you think you know holds up.”
Audiences are increasing in spite of—or perhaps because of—the controversy surrounding Vaxxed. After it was taken off the Tribeca schedule, festival co-founder and autism parent Robert DeNiro continued to express support for the film.
“I think the movie is something that people should see. I, as a parent with a child who has autism, am concerned,” he told the TODAY show’s Savannah Guthrie and Willie Geist in April.
“I want to know the truth. And I’m not anti-vaccine. I want safe vaccines.”