Pulling ‘Vaxxed’ still doesn’t retract vaccine misconceptions

By RACHEL EHRENBERG

The Tribeca Film Festival and its cofounder Robert De Niro came under intense fire last week for their decision to screen Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, a film directed by disgraced gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield. If Wakefield’s name doesn’t ring a bell, his legacy is surely familiar: his fraudulent 1998 study claiming to find a link between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine kicked off a major public health scare that’s had lasting, devastating consequences. While the purported link between autism and vaccines has been repeatedly debunked, the link lives on within the antivaccination movement. As a result of the backlash against vaccines, cases of the virtually eliminated measles are on the rise, as are outbreaks of other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Wakefield and his filmmaking colleagues’ official description of Vaxxed suggests that it sings his same tired, fear-mongering song: A whistleblower reveals a covered-up link between the MMR vaccine and autism. De Niro, who has a child with autism, initially defended the film’s screening, but after a firestorm of criticism, he changed his mind and Tribeca pulled the film from its lineup. The reversal was heralded as a win for science. If only it were that simple.

Callback