Pulling ‘Vaxxed’ still doesn’t retract vaccine misconceptions


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.