Caroline Sutherland | Film on Autism Stirs Controversy
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Film on Autism Stirs Controversy

Film on Autism Stirs Controversy

A film that sheds light on a subject that vaccines could be linked to autism, despite broad scientific consensus to the contrary, had its first screening at New York City’s Angelika Film Center, just days after organizers of the Tribeca Film Festival decided to drop the film after an outcry from concerned scientists. Film-makers hope the first showings of Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe will stir enough interest to warrant wider release of a film that has dismayed scientists and riled so-called anti-vaxxers. The film was screened despite a lack of scientific evidence to buttress its conclusions: that vaccines are dangerous and responsible for rising autism rates.

Beth Portello, a spokeswoman for Cinema Libre Studio who distributed the film, said that scientists’ outcry is unwarranted, since they hadn’t seen the film, characterizing it as a movie about, “safer vaccines” not “anti-vaccine”.

But phrases such as “vaccine-damaged children” used throughout the film appear designed to raise parents’ suspicions, despite never identifying a specific biological mechanism through which the vaccines could harm children.

The film is directed by British former doctor Andrew Wakefield, whose retracted and debunked study of a dozen children asserted that there is a link between the multiple vaccine (MMR) measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism.

The three-part storyline of Vaxxed begins there, with  Dr. Wakefield’s own research, followed by interviews with families of autistic children who believe vaccination caused the disorder, then what the film alleges is a cover-up of autism research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unfortunately Dr. Wakefield’s research has been widely discredited. In 2009, The Sunday Times revealed that data included in a study published by Wakefield in the British medical journal Lancet was probably altered, and several co-authors removed their names from the article. His license to practice medicine in the UK was later revoked, though these details were not given in the film.

Despite the small sample size of Wakefield’s study and its eventual retraction, the belief that vaccines could, somehow, be harmful has proved intractable. Thousands of parents across the UK and the US have opted not to vaccinate their children, or to slow down the vaccination schedule recommended by public health agencies. In some cases, unvaccinated individuals have started sporadic measles outbreaks, most recently at Disneyland in California in 2015.

About 9% of Americans believe that the multiple vaccine (MMR) measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, is not safe, according to the Pew Research Center. Across the US, rates of parents seeking exemptions from vaccinations, has been as high as 6% in some regions, according to the CDC. And in the UK vaccination rates fell from 92% to 80% following the release of Dr. Wakefield’s study.

“In Wakefield’s original [now retracted] study, he proposed a biologic mechanism, and each part of that has been disproven – so where is the link?” said Dr Philip LaRussa, a Columbia University Medical Center pediatrics professor, who studies immunology and recently served on the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, after seeing the film. “They give no biologically plausible explanation for a cause and effect.”

The anti-vaccination film, pulled from the Tribeca film festival but screened in New York on Friday, offers a biased look at a controversial topic, but one in my opinion, that needs to be discussed.

For many, especially those skeptical of vaccines’ safety, ostracizing Vaxxed from the Tribeca Film Festival appears to have validated the film’s conspiratorial conclusions, that “Big Pharma” doesn’t want it seen. And thanks to the censorship of the film, more viewers will be interested in seeing it!

“It’s OK to ask questions, this dialogue, this conversation is OK,” said Dara, a 42-year-old mother of two unvaccinated children aged four and six, who wished not to have her last name used. “Why did I have to ask all the questions about is this safe for my son? … Nobody asked one question, I had to be the one to come to the table with all of this.” I agree – ask the questions. Trust your instincts and act accordingly.

Another vaccination skeptic, Steve Thiele, a chiropractor and father of six unvaccinated children, said: “In order for people to make an intelligent decision they have to have all the facts. And I think the facts have been hidden from them.” He then quoted Vaxxed nearly verbatim: “If the autism rate continues to rise the way it is now we’re talking 80% of the boys by 2032 are going to be diagnosed with autism. That’s going to completely destroy our country.”

Where do I stand on the subject? I am a medical doctor’s daughter. I have a great deal of confidence in conventional medicine BUT where is the logic? If there is any question about the safety of a multiple vaccine like MMR  then why can’t this be split up into three separate vaccines? This seems like a useful solution. I caution my daughters when it comes to vaccinating my grandchildren: Make sure the child does not have a cold or flu at the time the vaccination is scheduled. Space out vaccinations and use one vaccine at a time with plenty of breaks in between. Good for Dr Wakefield – poor man. Imagine losing a medical license for bringing an important subject to light. I am surprised that no one in the scientific community has backed him up when clearly he may just have revealed an important “thread” in the autism mystery. And to quote Steve Thiele DC, “If the autism rate continues, this is going to completely destroy our country.” A shameful situation indeed!

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