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NEW YORK — A controversial anti-vaccine documentary premiered here Friday to a small but delighted crowd — a reception that points to the deep and persistent distrust of scientific evidence among activists who continue to believe, despite a vast body of evidence, that vaccines can cause autism.

The film struck a paranoid tone, seeking to raise doubts about the “medical industrial complex.”

It hit at a range of targets: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for allegedly hiding vital data. Drug companies, for trying to “create an environment of constant vaccination from cradle to grave.” Even television news programs, for allegedly promoting the pharmaceutical industry’s agenda.

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At times the camera flashed through complex-looking spreadsheets and charts, not always slowing down to explain the data.

Still, the message resonated strongly with some members of the audience. When STAT asked some attendees about the overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccines are safe, they brushed it away.

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“It’s stressful that the press has been bought and sold like this,” said New York City resident Lisa Interollo.

She choked up as she spoke.

“I don’t have any more faith left in the scientific literature. I don’t have one iota of trust in these people anymore,” Interollo said.

Avril Dannenbaum, 59, said it felt “damn good” to see her concerns about vaccinations affirmed in the film. She said her trust in vaccines turned to suspicion after her son, now a thriving teenager, regressed developmentally for several years as a toddler after getting some of his vaccinations.

Directed by the discredited British researcher and anti-vaccine activist Andrew Wakefield, the film debuted here in the city’s SoHo neighborhood to a crowd of nearly 80 people.

It had been set to premiere just a short subway ride north of here at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival later this month. But an outpouring of criticism from public health advocates prompted the festival’s cofounder, actor Robert De Niro, to abruptly yank it from the program last weekend.

The film was packed with footage of emotional parents who said they observed disturbing behaviors in their children after vaccinations. In one scene, a mother cries as she talks about how her vaccinated son still can’t manage to cross the street, while his twin, a girl shown playing the piano, thrives.

Wakefield and producer Del Bigtree spent a remarkable amount of time on screen, advancing the chief arguments of their own documentary. Others interviewed on screen included MIT computer scientist Stephanie Seneff and Dr. James Sears, a pediatrician and co-host of a television show that Bigtree produced.

 

“Vaxxed” also advanced, but provided no evidence for, a conspiracy theory which has been circulating for about two years among anti-vaccine activists and concerned parents.

The theory holds that the CDC has covered up vital data and committed fraud. It’s based on concerns that a CDC scientist, William Thompson, raised about a study that he and several colleagues published in the journal Pediatrics in 2004.

Thompson, who has been hailed in the anti-vaccine community as a whistleblower, has said he believes the study omitted data that would have shown a link between a certain vaccine and autism in certain African-American boys.

But Thompson has also made clear that he would never tell parents not to vaccinate their children. His voice is heard offscreen in several phone calls, but he never shows up in person in the documentary, and one frame of the film displays text acknowledging that Thompson “is unaware he is being recorded during every phone call in this film.”

Producer Bigtree told STAT in an interview following the screening that the film is not anti-vaccine. He said the filmmakers simply oppose the widely administered combination vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella (known as MMR). They advocate for separate vaccines against each disease.

“We don’t want to see measles not vaccinated,” Bigtree said. “I don’t think that’s an anti-vaccine message, I’d say that’s a very pro-vaccine message.”

The MMR vaccine has been demonstrated to be safe in many large-scale studies.

Experts blame abstention from vaccinations for thousands of preventable deaths. The US saw more cases of measles in 2014, for instance, than it had in any year since world health officials declared the disease eliminated in North America, back in 2000.

Bigtree told STAT the film was backed by about $400,000 in donations. Promotional materials listed one donor as a charitable foundation backed by hedge fund manager Bernard Selz. A Texas law firm, Cullinane Law Group, was listed as another donor.

More screenings are planned over the next week, including two sold-out showings Friday and Saturday evening, said Beth Portello, a spokesperson for the film’s distributor Cinema Libre Studio.

This story was updated with more scenes from the documentary.

  • We have several problems showing up across the globe. This is not the only vaccine that has shown problems. The Hep B vaccine is another that is showing wide spread problems following the vaccine given to young babies. It is a disease transmitted by sex or intravenous drug use, not something most babies do but are being asked to get the vaccine at birth. We are also seeing the loss of honeybees world wide by almost 50%. Not that all these have similar ties, but it should make us look at all the drugs and chemicals being introduced into our society and question some of the usage and ages these are being used. Some 2000 chemicals have been introduced into our lives in a very short period of time and we continue to introduce more and more and we see more things happening after their introduction but no connections seem to be shown.? Every drug I see advertised I hear a long list of possible side effects from them and most have death in the list, should make us wonder what is going on.

    • people aren’t aware that a newborn is vaccinated against STD’s during their first day of life

      are vaccines a useful tool in mitigating the outbreak of foreign disease? absolutely. Is there room for mismanagement, harm, over-application of vaccines? some would say no.

  • Vaxxed is about a CDC Whistleblower that Congress has known about for a year. It’s about informed consent. It’s about parent after parent with no recourse for injured children bc of govt. Immunity for pharma vaccines since 1986. It’s about how Andrew Wakefield was never discredited, but attacked for his now proven true by the whistleblowers admission. This article is factually unsound by an unethical author who is unresearched. Total propaganda. The Supreme Court declared vaccines unavoidably unsafe in 2011. Parents read the package insert. Read the manufacturers own death statistics on test subjects. Read the ingredients. Be INFORMED before you consent.

  • Oh you forgot to mention the thousands of eye witness, aka the parents. They all have the same story, no personal affiliations, no genetic ties, and no motive other than the truth. It speaks volumes that the film is being blacklisted all over. If it’s full of so called conspiracy theory’s…. Let the people decide.

  • I watched the film today. The title of this article fits so well with the subtitle of the documentary: “The film they don’t want you to see”. Wow.
    “Vaxxed” also advanced, but provided no evidence for, a conspiracy theory which has been circulating for about two years among anti-vaccine activists and concerned parents.” – ‘no evidence’? Seriously? I’m really not convinced this author did even watch it. Watch it for yourself and you decide. Don’t just trust the reviews you read – all I’ve read so far are way off the mark.

  • Here are 2 facts that really need to be considered when evaluating this film and the entire subject of vaccine safety and efficacy:

    1. The combinations of vaccines that make up the different variants of the “approved vaccine schedule” in the U.S.A. include combinations and permutations that have NEVER been tested together for safety nor efficacy. So no one, including the physicians, the scientists involved, nor even the vaccine makers have any clue about their safety nor efficacy.

    2. The CDC finally admitted after decades of out-and-out lies and cover-ups that approximately 98 MILLION doses of polio vaccine were contaminated with a cancer-causing monkey virus. Now please remind me why I should trust the CDC even though they told and then perpetuated this massive lie, which may at least partially explain the enormous rise in the prevalence of cancer.

  • Before you downplay an important topic make sure to check your facts. According to the CDC vaccines are unavoidably unsafe. Read the inserts they can cause a range of side effects including forms of disability and even death. The study referred to admittedly by Thompson, removed data from participants in the study that showed a link to autism. They then tried to destroy the evidence. I think you should not be downplaying this as if it’s ridiculous to think there might be a connection of vaccines to autism or other forms of disability or deaths of our children. Something is causing this epidemic that is harming our children. The safety studies you referred to are a joke. How can safety be proved when only one vaccine is tested at a time on a healthy group of individuals and they are only followed for a short period of time. Vaccines are given to all regardless of health status and in multiple combinations at one time. Please refer me to the study you say shows that is safe.

  • First thing before writing a review, watch the film. Your article is pretty poorly written (content wise) and obvious you did not watch it. The evidence of cover up by the CDC is overwhelming. Head CDC scientist says on film that they doctored the data to show it did not cause autism, when in fact there was a 236% increase chance for African American children. Not the percentage Snopes quoted…FYI. They decided to take the affected kids out of the study after the fact. The movie isn’t an anti-vaccine film. It’s advocating actual safety guidelines. It advocates also for separating the MMR shot up into 3. You don’t call someone who advocated for safer cars, anti-car do you? When a company has little liability (pharma in 1986 was given freedom from liability by congress) then what is their motivation for making things safer? Tax payers have paid out 3 billion in vaccine injury claims, not pharma. Do you honestly think that’s okay? Do you know what the individual cost to parents (besides physically) will be for 72 shots by age 18? That’s the new schedule. Doctors visits, paying for the shots? I had 11 shots by age 18. I had a bad reaction too BTW. Allergies went nuts. Pharma makes 3 billion per year, per shot added to the schedule. Follow the money and get your head out of the sand.

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