Documentary evidence on vaccine conspiracies is unconvincing

Vaxxed, the controversial movie on the conspiracies surrounding the MMR vaccine, lacks credibility, says Michael Clifford.

Documentary evidence on vaccine conspiracies is unconvincing

WE were told to meet at O’Connell Bridge. The screening of Vaxxed would be somewhere in Dublin city centre, within walking distance of the bridge.

Around 1pm last Friday, a text was sent to redirect everybody to the venue. The screening of one of the most controversial films in years was to take place at the Tivoli theatre, on Francis Street.

The documentary purports to expose cover-ups and conspiracies around links between the MMR vaccination and autism.

The subterfuge was deemed necessary for two reasons. In March, a screening was expected in Dublin City University, at the Helix Theatre. The organisers claim that a booking was in place, but cancelled by the college authorities.

The college denies a booking had been made, but says that an approach to use the venue was turned down. So, now, the organisers want to arrange a screening with as little fuss as possible.

The other reason is that the film has attracted protestors, so it’s best to keep the venue secret for as long as possible.

Vaxxed has been banned from a number of European cinemas and recently from the prestigious Tribecca film festival, in New York.

So what is everybody afraid of? The great fear, as expressed by prominent scientific and medical bodies, is that the film will scare — or even con — parents into refusing to have their children vaccinated. The film concerns the MMR vaccine, but currently there is controversy around the HPV vaccine for cervical cancer.

Rates of HPV vaccination in teenage girls have fallen from over 80% to around 50% in the last year, largely due to a campaign by groups that associate the vaccine with serious health hazards.

Medical opinion refutes any connection between either vaccine and the illnesses cited. Last month, Minister for Health, Simon Harris, asked doctors to “come out fighting” against anti-vaccine groups. For their part, the anti-vaccine groups are convinced of the health effects and believe that there is a cover-up afoot, led by the powerful pharmaceutical industry.

Vaxxed was first shown last year and is currently on a tour across the US and Europe. The screening on Friday afternoon was the first in this country.

The film is based on research in the US’s Centre for Disease Control, which, it is claimed, was covered up. The research, it is alleged, pointed towards a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Around 70 people attended the screening. (A second showing was scheduled for Friday evening, before the Vaxxed people were supposed to be moving onto Cork, over the weekend).

As presented, the film makes a cogent argument. The cover-up theory is based largely on information from a whistleblower within the CDC.

This man, a scientist named William Thompson, is heard expressing grave concerns in phone calls, which, the documentary spells out, he is unaware were being recorded.

Statistics about the increased prevalence of autism are cited. People working in the field of autism contribute, as do a couple of GPs, who say they have changed their mind about the link between the vaccine and autism, having been furnished with some of the detail.

There is home video footage, purporting to show small children before being vaccinated and their regression afterwards.

Some of the footage is disturbing, but then autism can be disturbing, whatever its provenance.

There are, however, problems with the film. The whistleblower has not come out publicly, and the film claims he would be in breach of confidentiality laws, which could involve a prosecution, if he did so.

There is a claim that he could be invited to address the US Congress to get around this, but Congress has not asked him. As such, the whistle he’s blowing is not as clean as might be desired on an issue as vital as this.

Andrew Wakefield, who first made the link between the MMR vaccine and autism, features prominently. He was struck off the British medical register in 2010, for failing to act in the best interests of vulnerable children. There is no mention of this detail in the film. There is also a complete absence of any effort at balance.

Some figures about autism also require further analysis. “Every seven minutes, a child in the US is diagnosed with autism,” one contributor says.

Another claims that by 2032 half of all children, and 80% of boys, will be on an autism spectrum.

After the screening, a question-and-answer session took place, featuring a Dr Suzanne Humphries, from the US, and Polly Tommey, from the UK, whose story of how she believes her son acquired autism is included in the film.

The questions varied hugely.

One man wanted to know whether it was possible big pharma included something in vaccines which later led to cancer, thus generating more money by having to treat the disease. That was dismissed.

Another concerned whether or not the MMR vaccine would be safer if it was administered as three separate vaccines for each condition.

On it went, among, as one person acknowledged, the converted. And that was the point.

Those who attended the screening had, to a large extent, already made up their minds.

Outside the Tivoli, the protestors had begun to gather. Later, the gardaí were called, but there were no arrests.

What’s everybody afraid of? Vaxxed is well put together, but for those who believe its premise is either misguided or a con, it shouldn’t take much to pull it apart.

Ultimately, Vaxxed is largely based on conspiracy. Right now, conspiracies are perceived to be everywhere.

The one at the centre of this film is old, involving the capacity of big pharma to dictate the health, and consequently the life and death, of millions, by exercising power over democratic governments and health professionals everywhere.

It’s possible, but so far this particular conspiracy lacks a credible body of evidence.

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