Robert De Niro on Wednesday defended the notion that vaccines are linked to autism, resurfacing a discredited notion based on false science.
The star appeared on the “Today” show to promote the Tribeca Film Festival, which he helped found. But the segment was dominated by controversy over an anti-vaccination film called “Vaxxed,” which the festival pulled from this year’s program after a public outcry.
The film was directed by discredited scientist-turned-activist Andrew Wakefield. At the time of its removal, De Niro had said that the film would not provide the conversation-starter he had hoped for. But in the interview Wednesday, he admitted that part of him regretted removing the film from the schedule. “As a parent of a child who has autism, I’m concerned,” he said. “And I want to know the truth. And I’m not anti-vaccine. I want safe vaccines.”
“I think the movie is something that people should see,” De Niro told cohost Savannah Guthrie, recommending it alongside another anti-vaccine documentary called “Trace Amounts.” “There’s a lot of information about things that are happening with the CDC, the pharmaceutical companies, there are a lot of things that aren’t said,” De Niro said.
That echoes a strong theme in the “Vaxxed” documentary, which 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. But as the conspiracy theory grew, Thompson came forward with a public statement. He said he wanted to make “absolutely clear” that he believes vaccines save lives and that he would never advise a parent not to vaccinate.
At another point in the segment, when De Niro was asked whether he thought his son Elliot developed autism “overnight,” he said, “My wife says that. I don’t remember.”
Even as Guthrie and cohost Willie Geist pointed out that there is no scientific evidence of a link between vaccines and autism, De Niro dug in his heels. “It’s much more complicated than that. There is a link, and they’re saying there isn’t,” he said.