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Tribeca Film Festival pulls “Vaxxed” from lineup and it’s a win for children

One of medicine’s greatest scandals, the debate over the MMR vaccine and autism, almost became prime viewing entertainment at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Known for hosting some of the world’s most talented established and up-and-coming filmmakers, the Tribeca Film Festival lineup typically includes a variety of independent films chosen from over 6,000 submissions. Much to the horror of pediatricians and the rest of the medical community, this year’s lineup included Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, a so-called “documentary” promoting an anti-vaccine agenda. Vaxxed promotes the anti-vaccine community’s theory that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the mastermind behind a massive cover-up about a connection between vaccines and autism.

And that medical scandal I referred to? It dates back to 1998 when then-physician Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper in the esteemed medical journal The Lancet, claiming he had evidence to suggest a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. A few years later, such evidence was found to be fraudulent, resulting in Wakefield being stripped of his medical license for ethical misconduct. In other words, he made the whole thing up, rumored to be because he was creating his own “safer” version of the MMR vaccine and stood to make millions.

Did I mention the film’s director? None other than Andrew Wakefield.

Fortunately, actor and Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Robert DeNiro, who’s own son has autism, decided to pull the film from the lineup only 24 hours after putting it in. His intention to spark honest conversation about the topic seems well-intended enough — he stated he wanted “all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism to be openly discussed and examined” and he was “only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.” However, his plan clearly backfired when he saw the outpouring of concern from the scientific and medical community. Clearly, nearly everyone in the medical community agrees that this myth has been debunked and the debate is over. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics President, Bernard P. Dreyer, M.D., stated that the “lies about measles vaccine and autism have caused a lot of damage to children around the world.”

And that they have. Due to the anti-vaccine movement, seeds of doubt and fear have been instilled into many well-meaning parents who do not have the scientific background to conduct their own evidence-based research. The rates of illnesses such as measles and whooping cough have skyrocketed, as more and more children are left unprotected from these diseases. The immunocompromised, newborns, and elderly are unnecessarily put at risk because more healthy children are left exposed.

Had this movie been shown at such an esteemed and respected film festival, it would have suggested that the information was credible and valid. Furthermore, countless other children would likely have been put at risk simply because well-meaning parents would have been swayed by the dangerous misinformation.

So hats off to the thousands of pediatricians and other medical professionals who cared enough to make their collective voice heard. And while it is doubtful that Wakefield and his cult following will remain quiet for long, at least it is a small victory for America’s children today.

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Image: Sam Aronov / Shutterstock.com

About Dr. Kristie Rivers, Bundoo Pediatrician

Dr. Kristie Rivers is an Attending Physician, Assistant Medical Director of the Pediatric Hospitalist Program, and Director of Pediatric Medical Education at a children’s hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She cares for hospitalized children and also teaches pediatric residents and medical students.

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