In 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.
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.
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 But his fraudulent study suggesting a link between MMR and autism was retracted by the Lancet.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.
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.
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.
My 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.