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Promos for Wakefield film ‘Vaxxed’ turn a blind eye to critically important facts

Fraud pays, and people are willing to turn a blind eye. Those are the two things I realized after learning from a colleague on social media that Andrew Wakefield’s movie “Vaxxed” is coming to the Uptown Theatre in Minneapolis for a six-day run.

The theater’s website has this to say about the film (full title: “Vaxxed: from Cover-up to Catastrophe”) on its “Coming Soon” page: “Examines potential causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism.” Clicking the “more info” link provides some spooky movie poster art, and a paragraph describing Wakefield as “the British gastroenterologist who first reported in 1998 that the MMR vaccine may cause autism.”

Notably missing is any mention of the facts that:

  • That first report has been uncovered as fraud.
  • The Lancet, the journal which first published the article, has retracted the report.
  • Wakefield’s clinical and academic credentials have been stripped from him.

The details of all this, and the elaborate falsehoods he employed over the years to first publish, and then to defend his fraudulent work, are the subject of an exhaustive report written by Brian Deer and published by the British Medical Journal. Unfortunately, the only hint one gets from the Uptown Theatre’s website is that they describe the film as “this controversial documentary.” Reached via their Twitter feed, the theater (operated by Landmark Theatres) stated that “While Landmark doesn’t endorse this or any film, we do believe people have the right to view the film and judge it for themselves.”

Dimitri Drekonja

Freedom of speech is clearly admirable, but so is transparency and honesty. Posting promotional material that implies a causal link between the measles mumps and rubella vaccine and autism, when no such link exists, is dishonest. Referring to Wakefield as a gastroenterologist when he has been barred from practicing this, or any medical specialty, is at best obfuscating.

Why does this matter? In 2011, Minnesota reported 26 measles cases — after averaging 1.2 per year the decade prior. This outbreak was largely among a local immigrant population that saw increases in vaccine refusal prior to 2011. Guess who came and met with that community in the year leading up to the epidemic: Andrew Wakefield. For details on this outbreak, see the article by Gahr et al., Pediatrics 2014.

Dimitri Drekonja, M.D., M.S. is a staff physician in the Infectious Diseases, Minneapolis VA Health Care System and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota. He is a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America Public Health Committee. The views expressed here are those of Dr. Drekonja, and are not necessarily representative of those of the Veterans Affairs Administration, the University of Minnesota, or the Infectious Diseases Society of America.


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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/26/2016 - 01:40 pm.

    Andrew Wakefield

    His hypotheses have been debunked, time and again. The only people who still listen to him are those who believe that Big Pharma and the medical profession are involved in some massive conspiracy to hide the truth.

  2. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 05/26/2016 - 02:22 pm.

    While everyone and their brother now knows that Wakefield was a fraud, it is also disingenuous for vaccine advocates to pretend that the Wakefield fraud is and was the only reason why people have concern about the “normal” schedule of pediatric vaccines. There are excellent resources like the Vaccine Book by Robert Sears which actually look at the risks of particular vaccines compared to the risks those vaccines are intended to mitigate – both from an individual and a herd-immunity perspective. While many vaccines make sense, it’s ridiculous some of the vaccines that are now part of the schedule which weren’t a decade or two ago. Rote recommendations for vaccines like Hep B or others where there’s little to no risk. It’s disingenuous to claim that people need to either accept all vaccines on the one-size-fits-all schedule, or people are somehow anti-vax. It eliminates the whole spectrum between those two radical positions that allows for consideration of individual factors, risks versus benefits, and critical thinking.

    • Submitted by Chris Farmer-Lies on 05/26/2016 - 03:15 pm.

      About two minutes of research indicates that Dr. Sears is cashing in on quackery, just as Dr. Wakefield.

      • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 05/26/2016 - 03:32 pm.

        Please then provide what you consider to be a resource that thoroughly discusses all vaccines, and provides adequate discussion about the risks and rewards – both for individual health and for public health – regarding each.

        Just as we have worked so hard to replace paternalism with informed consent in so many other facets of healthcare, this has grown to be an extremely paternalistic corner of healthcare. It’s extremely offputting, and I’m not even anti-vaccine.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/26/2016 - 05:10 pm.

          informed consent?

          That is about the last thing people like Sears and Wakefield are providing.

        • Submitted by Chris Farmer-Lies on 05/27/2016 - 02:57 pm.

          There are plenty. In fact, virtually every credible medical organization out there stands against these two discredited, fringe voices.

  3. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 05/26/2016 - 04:32 pm.

    Matthew– below are pretty decent resources from authoritative sources that can be found online. Hope you find them helpful.

  4. Submitted by Jan Stark on 05/26/2016 - 04:58 pm.


    “I regret that my coauthors and I omitted statistically significant information  in our 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics. The omitted data suggested that African American males who received the MMR vaccine before age 36 months were at increased  risk for autism.”

    Rep. William Posey (FL) has requested on the Congressional floor for Dr. Thompson be subpoenaed and submit testimony. Also the producer of this film is a respected medical journalist who has worked on the television show The Doctors.

  5. Submitted by Daniel Grisales on 05/26/2016 - 06:45 pm.

    Wake up….

    Like every denial, ie Flint, Fracking, GMO, etc—this movie does its job by providing information.
    Do not cling on to Wakefield and his research. The movie does not focus on him but on the other possibilities of a larger issue. Even DeNiro in his television interviews are asking the American population to watch the movie. He states we need to know and investigate the why. Lets not get caught in the tit for tat discussion of conspiracy theories but to accept their maybe a truth in what we are exposed to in our life. A modern day example is Flint, MI. The truth kept on getting buried over and over and denial stacked upon denial. Wake up people….

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/27/2016 - 08:10 am.

      You’ve got it backwards

      The truth-seekers are those who seek to expose this film and those behind it. The fact that an actor is promoting it is meaningless, although, to be fair, DeNiro did as much actual research as Wakefield did – none whatsoever.

      Science exposed what happened in Flint. This film is about rejecting science and promoting falsehoods.

  6. Submitted by Max Fountain on 05/26/2016 - 10:21 pm.

    MMR or Bust?

    Where have all the individual vaccines ( monovalent) gone? Why did Merck discontinue those? Could it be they needed to ensure they recover their development investment for the MMR cocktail? Sort of like Cortez burning his ships to prevent his troops from returning home. If the CDC was primarily concerned about parents not vaccinating then why can parents no longer choose an alternative route to the same level of immunization. I’m most impressed by Merck PR machine which has convinced a bunch of dullards Wakefield is antivaccine. He’s not. The Merck strategy was brilliantly simply. Continue to demonize ole Wakefield as the AntiVax Prince of Darkness. That has worked flawlessly so far especially with the press. As far as a conspiracy by BigPharma. Its only a cover-up and damage control for gross incompetence. Follow the liability money and don’t blame Wakefield for parents not vaccinating. He’s really not that important.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/27/2016 - 07:51 am.


      No one had to demonize Wakefield. He published a fraudulent study and he had his medical license taken away. His findings were completely fake. Anyone with even a shred of intelligence or common sense would recognize that Wakefield has zero credibility.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 05/27/2016 - 12:27 pm.

      Get Him Out!

      For someone who says that Wakefield is “…really not that important”, you sure do spend a lot of ink on him.

      If you think the anti-vaxxers really do have a point, then by all means present the evidence for people to look at. So far all anyone’s been able to present is a person who’s a fraud, a second person who’s in error, and an unintelligible rant about a drug company’s PR department.

      I’ll be the first to agree that large companies can be insensitive in their pursuit of profits, but you need more than a little fist shaking to persuade people to shift their position on what is a scientific issue.

      Step up your game. Bring facts.

  7. Submitted by Nancy Hokkanen on 05/26/2016 - 11:10 pm.

    CDC vaccine research corruption is focus of Vaxxed documentary

    Dr. Drekonja hasn’t seen the film he’s criticizing via the same press release bullet points found in other newspapers this week.

    “Vaxxed” exposes the CDC corruption ignored by corporate media, focusing on recorded statements of senior CDC scientist Dr. William Thompson:

    – “I have a boss who is asking me to lie. The higher-ups wanted to do certain things and I went along with it.”

    – “[T]he CDC is so paralyzed right now by anything related to autism. They’re not doing what they should be doing. They are afraid to look for things that might be associated.”

    – “I have great shame now when I meet families with kids with autism because I’ve – I’ve been part of the problem.”

    – “I can say confidently, I do think thimerosal causes tics. So, I don’t know why they still give it to pregnant women. Like, that’s the last person I would give mercury to.”

  8. Submitted by Nancy Hokkanen on 05/26/2016 - 11:15 pm.

    Senior scientist: “unethical, vile things” done by CDC managers

    “That’s the deal . . ., that’s what I keep seeing again and again and again . . . where these senior people [at CDC] just do completely unethical, vile things and no one holds them accountable.”

    — CDC senior scientist Dr. William Thompson, June 12, 2014

    The Thompson Transcripts: Shocking Revelations by the CDC Whistleblower

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/31/2016 - 08:56 am.

    Junk is not information

    Time and time again from climate change to vaccines, to FB pages about non-existent cancer clusters, we see ignorant claims that pretend to be providing “information”… because more information is a good thing. The problem is we have a society full of people who simply cannot discern the difference between junk and information. It’s a consumer mentality that’s devoid of critical thinking. People select information that appeals to them regardless of validity.

    The primary problem with ANY claim that ANYTHING caused an epidemic of Autism is that there never was an actual epidemic of Autism. What happened was the diagnostic criteria for Autism was drastically modified (for a lot of reasons good and bad) and the new criteria produced a massive increase in diagnosis. All you have to do is go back and look at the DSM criteria in the 1980s ( i.e. DSM III) and compare it to the DSM criteria of the 90s (i.e DSM IV) and you see the radically expanded criteria. Millions of children who would never have been considered Autistic in the 80s were being diagnosed in the 90s. This had nothing to do with “new” cases, it was simply a matter of lumping other diagnostic categories into a newly designed “spectrum” disorder.

    When you combine the expansion of the actual diagnostic criteria with a number of other factors ranging from restricted access to necessary special social and education services dependent on a diagnosis of some kind, to the cottage industries and professional careers that spring up around “new” diagnostic criteria; you get an explosion of new diagnosis. We’ve seen this before.

    Here’s the 1980 definition of Infantile Autism as it appeared in DSM-III.

    A. Onset before 30 months of age
    B. Pervasive lack of responsiveness to other people
    C. Gross deficits in language development
    D. If speech is present, peculiar speech patterns such as immediate and delayed echolalia, metaphorical language, pronominal reversal
    E. Bizarre responses to various aspects of the environment, e.g., resistance to change, peculiar interest in or attachments to animate or inanimate objects
    F. Absence of delusions, hallucinations, loosening of associations, and incoherence as in Schizophrenia.

    And here is how the equivalent items are phrased in the current version, DSM-IV, under Autism Spectrum Disorder:

    A. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities or may be masked by learned strategies later in life).
    B. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity must be present (or have been present earlier in development). However, these can range from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back and forth conversation through reduced sharing of interests, emotions, and affect and response to total lack of initiation of social interaction
    C. ASD can be diagnosed with or without accompanying language impairment
    D. “Peculiar speech patterns” are not required for a diagnosis. However, echolalia and idiosyncratic phrases are considered examples of Stereotyped or repetitive movements, use of objects, or speech – one of four nonsocial features (see E below)
    E. Any two of the following must be present (currently or earlier in development): (1) Stereotyped use of objects; (2) Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behaviour; (3) Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus; (4) Hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment
    F. Hallucinations and delusions, which are defining features of schizophrenia, are not features of ASD

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