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“Vaxxed” a Perfect Storm of Myth and Hate

photo of Dawn in front of Vaxxed movie poster outside theaterIn Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe, director Andrew Wakefield and producer Del Bigtree assert that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not trustworthy as a source of vaccine safety information.

They claim that the CDC hid evidence in one of its major studies that vaccines cause autism—and that African American boys are at the greatest risk. They claim in particular that cases of autism are skyrocketing, and that not only are MMR  and other multivaccine shots the culprits, these vaccines are especially dangerous when given at a young age. And of course, the reason that we’re only hearing about all of this from Wakefield and Bigtree is that BigPharma has “bought off” all the major media outlets.

Rather than do a review of the content of the film, as Dr. Paul Offit has done eloquently here and Jordan Hoffman also has here, I’d like to review the people in it.

Choice of Interviewees

You’ll find that the parade of people who were interviewed for this film are a collection of: “scientists” who don’t do research ethically, professionals who are in no position to be acting as experts in the fields of immunology nor autism, and parents who have assumed the blame for supposedly damaging their own children with vaccines (and then become vocal activists). Andrew Wakefield repeatedly claims he is not anti-vaccine, but his film is chock full of people who are. Wakefield conceals the fact that this spectacle is comprised mainly of his own small clique of activists.

Andrew Wakefield

Wakefield was a gastroenterologist. But his fraudulent study suggesting a link between MMR and autism was retracted by the Lancet. He was stripped of his medical license in the U.K. due to his unethical treatment of disabled children for the study. Yet he continues to urge parents to skip the MMR vaccine. Details in this well-crafted comic by Darryl Cunningham.

William Thompson, PhD (audio only)

Although he never appears in the film, audio recordings of Thompson’s conversations with Brian Hooker are scattered throughout the film. We only hear short bits of dialog, no sustained lengths of conversation. The audio was recorded without Thompson’s knowledge. So it is easy to imagine that these snippets are deliberately rearranged, cherry-picked, and pulled out of context. But there is little doubt that Thompson is not fond of vaccines. This is not the first time these sound bites have been featured in a film by Wakefield.

An analysis of Thompson’s trashing and misinterpretation of his own Thimerosal study is at Orac’s Respectful Insolence blog.

Brian Hooker, former bioengineer, parent

Hooker evidently views himself as an epidemiologist or neurologist, and vaccine industry watchdog, although his background is in bioengineering on plants and fungi.

Hooker had his own study, “Measles-mumps-rubella vaccination timing and autism among young African American boys: a reanalysis of CDC data”, retracted from the journal Translational Neurodegeneration. It contained undeclared conflicts of interest that compromised the peer-review process. And it had questionable validity in its methods and statistical analysis. Ultimately its key finding was that Wakefield was wrong.

Doreen Granpeesheh, PhD

Granpeesheh is a clinical psychologist. She is far from an internationally-recognized authority on autism. She is the founder of Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD), which uses the controversial application of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy in 17 offices worldwide. She used to work for Thoughtful House, which was Wakefield’s clinic.

In the film, she argues that GMOs and “toxins” cause autism, although there is no credible evidence of this. She claims that 6 out of 14 patients in a $5.4 million, state-funded study at CARD became “fully recovered“. Not only is the sample size very small, those children were not cured of autism, because it is not a disease. Instead, they were likely taught how to hide their autism-associated behaviors better (a feature of ABA), which can be psychologically damaging to the child.

Del Matthew Bigtree, producer

Bigtree is credited as a “medical journalist” in the film. However, a review of his work online reveals that he has actually spent his time being a producer of the dubious The Doctors television show. He’s also taken a shot at producing segments of the Dr. Phil show. There is no clear evidence that he has any kind of background in either medicine or journalism.

Polly and Jonathan Tommey, parents

Polly and Jon tell a gripping and emotionally-charged story of how their son has autism, and how they are certain is was due to MMR vaccine. They act like brave victims, and describe their son as a broken thing. An antivaccine activist, Polly is editor-in-chief of the pseudoscientific magazine, The Autism File. When the rag is not ignoring the voices of people who have autism, it’s selling quack cures.

Polly has also worked closely with Wakefield on the joint venture, the Autism Media Channel. Wakefield thanks Polly in his Acknowledgements for his 2010 book Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines — the Truth Behind a Tragedy, in which he reprinted articles from Autism File.

Jim Sears, M.D., pediatrician

Sears (brother to Bob, author of the misleading The Vaccine Book) poses as a pediatrician who is fully in support of the CDC vaccine schedule. Like brother Bob, Jim claims he is “not anti-vaccine” yet he has a history of voicing fishy statements about vaccines as a regular on The Doctors. He has said at least as far back as 2008 that vaccines can cause autism in “sensitive kids”, and that organic foods will boost a child’s immune system.

Sears behaves in the film like his review of the CDC documentation has instantly reformed him from a gung-ho vaccinator to an enlightened doctor who is now vaccine-hesitant. This kind of drama is what truly turns this so-called “documentary” into a laughable farce.

photo: Jim Sears

Jeanna Reed, nurse, parent

Reed is an antivaccine activist who also claims that her son was gripped with autism following his immunizations. She cofounded Autism Is Medical (AIM) and is the Public Relations Coordinator for Wakefield’s and Tommey’s Autism Media Channel. AIM describes autism as being “trapped inside a body ravaged with inflammation, infection, dysfunction, and a host of other illnesses.” Reed describes her effort as focused on vaccine safety, but she embraces quack biomed studies. 

Mark Blaxill, parent

Blaxill is yet another anti-vax activist, and parent of an autistic daughter. He is the editor of Age of Autism, and former director of SafeMinds. Both organizations portray autism as an epidemic (it’s not) in which children’s brains are “lost”. Both claim that autism is due solely to environmental stressors, not genetics. He is also chairman of The Canary Party, who are as they say “a group of citizens who are disturbed by the increasingly failing health of those in our society.” Blaxill frequently speaks at pseudoscientific autism conferences.

Sheila Ealey, parent

Ealey tells a story of how her son got a double-dose of the MMR accidentally at age 13 months, and suddenly he stopped walking and crawling. She claims in this interview that after Hurricane Katrina, his medical records were stolen from her evacuated apartment in New Orleans. Only his records, not those of her other children. Oh, and that her lawsuit was thrown out because of Merck or something. So, you know, conspiracy. Anyway, she feels that her son’s life has been robbed from him.

Luc Montagnier, virologist

Montagnier co-discovered the cause of AIDS, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and received a Nobel Prize for the breakthrough. Like Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, he’s also completed studies of questionable scientific merit. He is praised by noted loon Deepak Chopra, and embraced by homeopaths for his claims that water can retain the electromagnetic signals of DNA that is no longer within it. His rigor-free results have yet to be reproduced.

David Weldon, M.D., congressmember

Physician and former U.S. Representative Weldon has been a lover of vaccine conspiracy theories for over a decade. He pushed for legislation to ban Thimerosal from all vaccines, even though Thimerosal has been proven safe at the levels received in vaccines.

Stephanie Seneff, computer science researcher

Ah, where do I begin with Seneff? Her background is in computer technology, yet she is frequently presented as an expert in biology. She has repeatedly made unsupportable speculations about the dangers of GMO foods and the herbicide glyphosate (brand name Round Up.) She gained notoriety by concluding that (because of glyphosate) by the year 2025, half of all children will be autistic. She equates correlation with causation. In social media, the story got around that the argument was made by MIT. No. She just happens to work there.

It’s odd that Seneff was included in a film that wants you to believe that vaccine ingredients are the real culprits. But I guess to them it’s all rolled into a big ball of “environmental causes”. In any case, studies have shown that increased rates of autism are actually due to changes in how autism is diagnosed, and that now it is leveling off.

Dan Burton, congressmember, grandparent

Burton is another former U.S. Representative, like Weldon. However, his background includes real estate and insurance rather than internal medicine. He believes that his grandson developed autism due to vaccines. Like Wheldon, he wished to recall all vaccines containing Thimerosal. He also pushed for a $30 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) study to assess the use of dangerous chelation therapy to cure autism.

Almost forty years ago, Burton fought for the right of Indiana citizens to use Laetrile to treat cancer. Laetrile—made from apricot pits—didn’t do anything to treat cancer, but in fact had side effects similar to cyanide poisoning. Laetrile killed two-year-old Chad Green, nine-year-old Joseph Hofbauer, and movie star Steve McQueen. After being subject to much scientific scrutiny, it is now completely discredited.

Burton has been a powerful ally to Wakefield. He held a hearing of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee in 2000, to give Wakefield a high-profile platform. This, sadly, gave many Americans the idea that vaccines are dangerous to their kids.

Jim Moody J.D., anti-vaccine attorney

Judge Moody wrote an article with Wakefield for Tommey’s Autism File magazine entitled “Ethics, Evidence and the Death of Medicine”. This was later reprinted as the Afterword of Wakefield’s Callous Disregard.

Moody has also appeared in two other “documentaries”: Autism: Made in the U.S.A. (2009) and Global Eugenics: Using Medicine to Kill (2009). And—notably—none other. The first movie blames vaccines for autism, and the second one implicates not only vaccines as part of some world-wide eugenics plan, but also Monsanto, GMO foods, and water.

Rachael Ross M.D., family medicine physician and sexologist

Similarly to Jim Sears, Ross has appeared regularly on The Doctors, as a co-host in fact. And similarly, she pretended to go from staunchly pro-vax to anti-MMR during the course of the movie. She just can’t believe the CDC lied. This bit of drama is also astonishingly misleading.

Because two years ago, she was arguing against the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine supported by vague claims regarding adverse events. Adverse events, by the way, do not imply causality. They just mean something bad happened after the inoculation, and in most cases it was simply coincidence. She completely ignores the fact that HPV has been proven to cause cervical cancer, throat cancer, anal cancer, vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer, and penile cancer. It seems she’s comfortable with dismissing a clear and easy cancer preventative.

Q&A

photo of Polly Tommey, Del Bigtree, and Andrew WakefieldMy showing included a Q&A session afterward. There were Polly, Del, and Andy in the flesh. Ready to answer our questions. I was burning to ask any number of questions such as, “You paint autistic people in the film as damaged. Did you interview any adult autistics?” But I chickened out. I was probably the only CDC-loving individual in the half-empty theater. But I did capture some answers from this peanut gallery below.

Andrew Wakefield ranted that Senator Richard Pan should be held personally responsible for reckless yadda yadda in his pushing for SB-277 in California. He also claimed that Thimerosal and other “heavy metals” have a stronger cell-killing effect (in a petri dish) when testosterone is added, and that is why boys get autism more than girls.

Del Bigtree complained about being kicked out of the Tribeca film festival (I wanted to yell you’re welcome!), and that this film is not anti-vax. Snort. It’s only full of anti-vaccination zealots. Bigtree claimed that because of the supposed CDC conspiracy, “What’s really at stake is the health of democracy.” He also opined, “If we have stopped measles and replaced it with autism, is that a success? That’s not a success.” Annnnnd he reminded us again that the media is paid off by Big Pharma.

Polly Tommey, for her part, called anyone that disagrees with them on social media a troll.

I guess that makes me one.


Update May 27, 2016

Would you like a flyer based on this post that you can print out and share? Click below to download the PDF.

Vaxxed counter-flyer: Why you should skip Vaxxed

By Dawn Pedersen

Science advocate, web designer, educator, artist, and mommy.

49 replies on ““Vaxxed” a Perfect Storm of Myth and Hate”

Thank you for your review of this despicable piece of garbage. I am still in awe of the number of people that buy into this nonsense.

Aloha Dawn;
Thank you for your review, which confirmed what I had already assumed about that film, to wit, that it consists of nothing more than a baseless reiteration of the fraudulent, charlatan, fearmongering lies founded by Wakefield.

While driving near Sacramento yesterday, I heard a radio talk show which featured Wakefield and Ealey. Having heard and read all they have to say, many times over, I was greatly troubled at the social irresponsibilty demonstrated by the radio station, for giving air time to a misguided, scientifically unsupported “cause”, which represents enormous risk to millions of U.S. children.

That a parent is capable of intentionally placing their beloved child squarely in harm’s way, by refusing to vaccinate, horrifies me. That such a parent is indifferent to the implied social contract to protect all children, evidences an absolute disregard of the health and welfare of fellow/neighbor citizens’ children.

Again, Mahalo Nui Loa.

What a crap artcile. You guys are really digging at this point. You can write up all you want because this article got 500 shares that is the same as one just one theater being sold out of this movie and its been sold out all over the country.
This article is ridiculous and so is its author. Shows how desperate people are to cover the truth. You weren’t courageous enough to interview the same people you bash here even though you were right in front of them?
Yet this article proves what now? You like you chat chat chat about nothing! Paul offit is a criminal. You writing this article makes you an accomplice go killing and maiming children. Good job you should be proud

Agree .. why didn’t she interview the ppl she bashed ? .. paid shill. offit needs to take ten thousand vaxes in public to prove it won’t hurt anything .. pan too. check out the authors fb page.. she likes a page called ‘i want to be a shillionaire’

ahh so you will converse with me but not with the makers of the film. I didn’t know that words aged and lost their meaning .. shill means the same today . There is substance to my reply .. offit and pan need to take ten thousand shots they say that little babies can take and have no effect on their health.

Damn. I kinda didn’t really believe idiots like you existed. You’re like a unicorn, an overly gullible, stupid, ugly and apparently at risk of disease unicorn. So kind of more like an orc.

No one can convince you that you’re wrong because the missing basis of knowledge is just too comprehensive for any one person to cover. What you need is to go back to school, learn basic chemistry/biology and logical thinking as well as develop an open minded, unbiased perspective.

There is little substance to your comment, mostly fallacious arguments. If anything is giving anyone autism, it’s some of these ridiculous comments that want to contradict decades of credible studies with nothing more than “oh yeah I read this thing on the Internet and now I’m some sort of qualified scientist or medical professional.”

Got any substance to show why is this a ”crap” article? All I hear is ”BLAH BLAH THIS ARTIKL IZ TEH KRAPPY KUZ UR TEH CRIMINAL LIEK PAUL OFFIT SO MAIM TEH CHILDRENZ WTH TEH VAXZEENZ KUZ TIS ERTIKL IZ TEH KRAPPY BLAH BLAH BLAH!!!!”

#PanRan!!!

What a sad little man… PanRan. Be strong in your beliefs. Speak to those who disagree. Dr. Wakefield is a HERO. One of the only doctors who actually listens to parents. PanRan is a coward.

Wakefield is a thoroughly debunked junk scientist who produced a horrible, inaccurate study. Argue with facts all you like but it doesn’t change them.

Down with all of this… but ABA is harmful? It only helps them hide their autism better? I think it might be worth your while to look into the vast improvements in quality of life that ABA provides people with autism.

If something that affects up to 1 in 68 children doesn’t qualify as an epidemic in your mind then you lost all credibility with me.

epidemic
?p??d?m?k/
noun
a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.

Thanks for taking one for the team. I don’t know if I could even stomach sitting through the opening credits of this luddite pile of steaming crap.

you call ppl protecting innocent children from being injured or killed luddite .. wow .. does your name dan stand for pan?

Seems strange to me to be upset about this documentary? I mean if vaccines are safe and you trust the CDC, what harm is this film?

As a parent, I certainly would want to know if senior scientists are fudging data about a product that enjoys no liability and is mandated to a group of vulnerable persons.

What is your beef, exactly? And why on earth wouldn’t you challenge the panel after the show if you are so sure there is fraud about?

It is documented fact that Dr. Thompson has admitted to fudging numbers to make a vaccine seem less dangerous. You only have to do a Google search on the other Mumps component of this vaccine to see that they are at least two other Merck scientists battling it out in court over similar accusations.

I would say that the cat is out of the bag. Damage control is beyond the red stage.

?????????????????? beautiful!! Well put!! Go to a screening & ask all the questions you want during the Q&A. Then come back & blog properly. Your article lacks data & research.

How about some simple facts about Wakefield? All undeniable, all on record, all verifiable.

http://darryl-cunningham.blogspot.ca/2010/05/facts-in-case-of-dr-andrew-wakefield.html

Facts. Such pesky things when they don’t fit your personal world-view. Next up… which of the four known methods of dealing with cognitive dissonance will you employ? My bet is on straight-out denial.

P.S. Full disclosure. I’m a 50 year old high-functioning autistic who wasn’t vaccinated until I was 8.

I like this comment. Well put!! To the blogger: Go to a screening & ask all the questions you want during the Q&A. Then come back & blog properly. Your article lacks data & research.

It’s also pretty easy to look at how many people suffered from Mumps before and after vaccination programs began in the U.S.

The last year before we started the program, 120,000+ cases. In one year. Now we average anywhere between a few hundred to a thousand or two. That’s like a 99% reduction. Let’s also look at diptheria – ~15,000 deaths in the U.S. in 1921 alone. Vaccination comes along, now only 1 case has been reported to the CDC since 2004. Obviously extremely effective and that same # of people are not autistic now.

You can also look at anesthetists. They inject several compounds & preservatives similar to vaccines while using anesthesia – these patients do not wake up autistic.

This blog should actually be caled dawnsbrainwashed by the pharmaceutical companies. Oh wait. You’re part of the paid blogging campaign they have launched to try to combat the social media tsunami of awareness through astro-turfing.
How much $ do they pay for a piece of garbage blog post these days?
The house of cards is falling.
People like you are inconsequential in the end. The only people praising your tripe are that lowly band of trolls you run with, and your ranting is nothing more than a few weak voices yelling into an echo chamber. You hear your own voice and think it is validation.
People are awakening to the lies and deception.
I don’t envy you though.
It is going to really suck to be one of the voices screaming that vaccines are safe and effective, as that pile of lies is coming into the light.
Maybe you can convince people to smoke cigarettes instead … since they don’t cause cancer. Why don’t you invest in lead paint? It’s making a comeback, you know?

Although I was disappointed that a BCBA was in any way associated with this nonsense, I was surprised to see your comments about ABA. There is a significant body of literature to support ABA as an effective treatment for individuals with autism. Additionally, I’m not sure if the cases at CARD were single subject experimental designs, but it’s important to not discount this scientific methodology, provided experimental control is demonstrated.

https://www.kennedykrieger.org/patient-care/patient-care-programs/inpatient-programs/neurobehavioral-unit-nbu/applied-behavior-analysis/scientific-support

Decent article exposing how ‘Vaxxed’ is a pile of steaming excrement. Would have preferred you to challenge the Q&A people.

And look, the anti-vax brigade is already in full swing. Providing character assassinations & no substance.

I’m a father of an autistic daughter. I think a lot of these points you’re making are just as ‘reaching’ and it’s quite reprehensible you question the validity of the parents argument. I don’ t know what caused my daughter to lose her language or be able to function normally. It did however happen with 24 hours of receiving her 2nd MMR vaccine. She had an incredible high fever and was spinning in circles and we went back to the doctor. They said it is a known ‘effect’ to some people from the vaccine. I can see how people can come to a conclusion that vaccines can cause it. I also concede that we truly don’t know. Trying to deface people by their education, how they describe how you quote ‘toxins’ etc is purely helping them. You literally sound idiotic and contrived in trying so hard to make a point you fall on your face.

Whatever you do if you truly want to make a point don’t attack the parents. Their points are valid and I truly do feel it’s by definition a growing epidemic by mere definition it is not contagious yes but it seems to be more and more. Every clinic I try to take my daughter to has a waiting period… when I try to see a pediatric neurologist or developmental pediatrician the wait-list is now in the years of time to see them. Only to finally see one and they recommend also removing ‘toxins’, removing gluten and casein and also asking about dates and period of when they got a vaccination. And this is a regular doctor who my insurance company referred me too. So please stop being contrarian for it’s own sake and try and be constructive….

Dawn, I was enjoying your article but cringed when I saw your criticism of ABA. I agree with the comments above from Megan and James. I’m not an expert and I know ABA is somewhat controversial but I hope you take another look at the criticisms against ABA using with the same level of skepticism as you used with Vaxxed. As I understand it, ABA is one of the more science based therapies for autism. Other than that, great job on the article!

Great review. I dont see data, or citations from this hoard. Show me peer-reviewed studies anti vax folks. And vaccinate your kids ffs. I dont want your antivax kid to make me, my aged parents, or me sick.

And… Where do I sign up to become a paid shill for big pharma? I need to do some reno work on the house and could use a few bucks.

my suggestion to you is to have some children. you aren’t hideous it might happen. carry the child inside your body to full term insuring that this child has received the best possible nutrition. give natural birth to the child if you have the strength. then decide whether or not to have your perfectly healthy baby get all sorts of chemicals and foreign proteins introduced into their system from a needle… or maybe you have already done all this and are trying to justify your actions by “see, my child doesn’t have autism.”

Hello, I have a beautiful 20 year old non verbal autistic son In the late 90’s my son was diagnosed that he was autistic. I did not know what autism was and driven by emotions to investigate this area and back then it was like breaking down walls to find information unlike today. I was lead to an anti-vaccine doctor and we started off with the clean diet and seen improvements taking him off gluten and dairy….as time went on I got more concerned especially when he held his head screaming in pain after a couple of chelation treatments to “detox” him because he was sick….the doctor was ok with this and was told it is common to have regression first…there was many more mistreated moments. VAXXED movie may lead parents like us to a doctor on the Generation Rescue site. The doctor that mistreated my son is marked “Generation Rescue Recommended”

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