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EW 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.

“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.

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  • Wow I am reading articles to learn more but yours is so obviously biased and full of opinion, I think your journalism professors would be ashamed of your work. I will certainly not reply on your reporting as you write as though your being paid by the CDC or pharmaceutical companies. I suggest a refresher course is good journalism might make your reporting more worthwhile to read.

    • My apologies for grammar and typo errors – phone, big fingers and no reading glasses not a good combo.

  • You stated in that article that the movie provided no evidence of CDC covering up data or committing fraud. There was plenty of evidence in the film, namely the audio recordings of Dr. Thompson.

  • Oh my!, what?!! Mainstream media has nothing nice to say about Vaxxed?!. Big surprise!. Mainstream media has proven that it is deep in the pockets of the industrial medical complex!. One thing people are learning is that mainstream media can no longer be trusted!. Shame on you!. I hope you all die from a neurological disorder with massive amounts of mercury and aluminum in your evil brains!. Shame on you!. You are one of the biggest parts of the problem!. I loathe you!. Karma is a bitch!.

    • Medical practitioners, unlike you apparently, do not wish death from neurological disorders or anything else upon other people. What a disgraceful and inhumane thing to say.

  • This article is terrible. It doesn’t even mention the main focus of the film, which is the alleged fraud perpetrated by the CDC. This is serious. Focus should not be deflected from that.

  • I have an autistic daughter. She is now an adult. After her 6 month vaccination I watched my child disappear into her own mind. Immediately she started rocking in her crib. At the time I was studying to be a biochemist. I believe that there is a link. I believe there is a cover up. I am not anti vaccine but the cover up must stop and more studies need to be done. The best study would be to do many separate studies where the drug companies had no influence. Why has there not been more studies comparing children who haven’t been vaccinated and compare results? We deserve to have the answers. CDC does not want to admit they have damaged thousands of children. The drug companies do not want to be sued. Thimerosal should not be in any vaccine.

    • There are plenty of studies. You just need to be wary of your own confirmation bias when searching. I can empathize with the situation with your daughter, however anecdotal evidence is entirely subjective.

  • the people responsible for poisoning our children should rot in hell along with all the trolls they paid to post nonsense like yours. you will rot in hell with them.

    • Amen!!. This article and the jerk that wrote it will face justice!. If not in this life, surely the next!. People are getting too smart and these pieces of s@$t will have to eat crow!.

  • Odd that this article labels parents skepticle of science when the film is based on alleded scientific fraud. The article also questions why we’d believe that vaccines can cause autism when autism is specifically listed as an adverse reaction in vaccine inserts. Also interesting to note that court rulings have awarded many children compensation whose autism disorders were found to be caused by a vaccine.

  • So you watched the movie so we don’t have to? Is that so you can tell us what to think. My advice to people…see the movie and think for yourself.

    • Of course. They want as few of people as possible to hear what is going on and possibly form their own opinion for themselves and their families personal health decisions.

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