The headline was “Tribeca Film Festival to Screen An Anti-Vaccination movie.”1 I blinked, and read it again. There was a full-color photo of Andrew Wakefield, the denounced anti-vaccine fraud whose medical license was revoked and his 1998 Lancet paper and other papers retracted years ago. Wakefield is responsible for the clearly disproven claims that measles vaccine causes autism. The pediatric and infectious diseases communities have worked diligently for years to undo Wakefield’s damage by emphasizing both the vast numbers of lives saved by vaccines and the safety of vaccines. Many studies have proven both issues.
Wakefield, thoroughly disgraced in his native United Kingdom and elsewhere, emerged as the director and co-writer of Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, which was scheduled to be shown at the well-respected Tribeca Film Festival in April in New York City. Robert De Niro, one of the founders of the Tribeca Festival and the father of an autistic child, allegedly proposed and strongly supported the addition of this movie to the 2016 festival program.
Shortly after the New York Times article was published, a follow-up appeared in the New York Times online edition announcing that the Wakefield movie would not be shown after all.2 In a statement, De Niro commented that “after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.”
Had the movie not been pulled, the film would be comparable to propaganda, a seeming documentary about a medical issue that disregards well-established scientific evidence. Think Bernie Madoff directing and co-writing a movie titled Principles of Safe Investing.
Initially, the biographic information regarding Wakefield on the Tribeca Film Festival’s website omitted anything about the retraction of his Lancet paper by virtually all of his co-authors, his medical license revocation by the United Kingdom General Medical Council on the basis of egregious ethical violations, and his failure to disclose his financial conflicts of interest. The latter included accepting more than £400 000 (previously undisclosed) from lawyers who filed lawsuits fraudulently claiming injuries from vaccines. Whether or not Vaxxed had actually been given the high profile Tribeca venue, I know that the infectious diseases and pediatric communities will continue persistent efforts to educate parents and patients regarding the benefits and safety of immunizations.