The on-again, off-again debut of the controversial film “Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe” at the Tribeca Film Festival in March once again made the debate surrounding pediatric vaccination headline news.
The film, directed by former medical doctor Andrew Wakefield, chronicles the claims of an alleged whistleblower within the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who in 2014 leaked that there was an organized cover-up of research findings linking pediatric vaccination to autism. According to multiple media reports, the allegations central to the film have been proved to be a hoax. The Tribeca Film Festival reportedly decided to pull the film
after objections from both the medical community and government officials.
“My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family,” actor and Festival co-founder Robert De Niro said in a statement (De Niro has a son with autism). “But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.”
This is not the first time Wakefield’s work has been at the center of controversy, particularly as it pertains to the issue of pediatric vaccination. A former gastroenterologist, he published a paper in the journal The Lancet
in 1998 that described a research project involving 12 children who, the authors reported, displayed “developmental regression” within two weeks of being administered the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The authors also claimed to have identified a new syndrome, which they called autistic enterocolitis, as well as a link between the MMR vaccine and the development of autism.
Within a few years, however, Wakefield’s work was discredited when follow-up research was unable to duplicate his findings. The Lancet
retracted the article in 2010, and Wakefield’s medical license was revoked the same year. Still, there are those within the medical community who would argue that the damage had already been done. According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), from 2003 through 2013, the rate of parents applying for “personal belief exemptions” (PBEs) for the MMR vaccine for their children in the state quadrupled from 0.77 percent to 3.15 percent, before declining to 2.54 percent in 2014, when a law was implemented requiring counseling by a healthcare professional before a PBE is approved. CDPH reports that some schools in the state are still reporting PBE application rates as high as 80 percent, and recent outbreaks of both mumps and measles (including a 2014-15 outbreak of the latter) have been traced to unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children.