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.”
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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