SACRAMENTO (CBM) — Californians in the state Capitol have been afforded the opportunity to view the controversial film, “Vaxxed” that alleges the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covered up data that the MMR vaccine may contribute to autism in children, specifically African-American boys.
The film, “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” opened Friday night in Sacramento at the Tower Theater, not far from the halls of political power. Last year a serious debate occurred in the state Assembly and Senate regarding vaccinating children before enrollment in school.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 277 into law requiring school-age children in California to be fully vaccinated for 10 different childhood diseases before parents can enroll them in daycare, public or private school.
The bill passed in the Assembly and Senate even though opponents raised questions about the link between certain vaccines and spiraling autism and autoimmune diseases in children. According to the CDC, only one in 5,000 children in the U.S. contracted autism in 1975. Now, in 2016, one in 68 children are diagnosed with the disease.
“Vaxxed” makes the case that the CDC withheld critical information from research that could have established a potential link between autism and the MMR vaccine, which combines the vaccines for the measles, mumps, and rubella into one shot. The CDC collected data during a 2004 study. It is this data from the MMR shot that has raised concerns about a link to autism — particularly among African-American boys who received the shot before their third birthday.
The root of “Vaxxed,” and the potential correlation between autism and the MMR vaccine was first uncovered by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a gastrointestinal surgeon, and researcher from the U.K.
In 2000, Wakefield testified before Congress regarding the possible connection between the MMR vaccine, autism, and bowel disease in children. He first made the claim in a report published by him and a dozen co-authors in the February 1998 edition of The Lancet, a peer-reviewed British medical journal. It provided case histories for 12 children, exploring incidences of chronic enterocolitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and regressive developmental disorder–as well as immunization with the MMR vaccine.
“In eight children, the onset of behavioral problems had been linked, either by the parents or by the child’s physician, with measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination,” the authors wrote.
The U.K.’s General Medical Council ruled that Wakefield committed ethical violations and failed to disclose potentially competing financial interests in researching a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism. The medical journal retracted the study in 2010 and Wakefield’s medical license was revoked.
Four years later Dr. Brian Hooker, a researcher and a father of an autistic son, contacted Wakefield regarding recorded conversations he had with Dr. William Thompson, a senior scientist at the CDC. Hooker says, during recorded phone calls, Thompson admitted to excluding vital data about the MMR study.
Thompson ultimately released a statement via his attorneys in 2014 admitting he and his colleagues omitted statistically significant information from a 2004 pediatrics study regarding the timing between the administration of the MMR vaccine and the onset of autism in children. The data, which Thompson said was largely discarded, showed the relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Wakefield eventually met film producer Del Bigtree to discuss producing a documentary focusing on Thompson’s confession, which Bigtree went on to do with, “Vaxxed.”
Bigtree says the 91-minute film exposes how the CDC concealed and destroyed data from the study that could have proved a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
“This is not an anti-vaccine movie,” Bigtree says in the documentary. “This is a movie about fraud, scientific fraud, committed by the CDC, the most important study body on health in the world. It’s not about Andy Wakefield, it’s not about me, it’s about Dr. William Thompson.”
Before producing “Vaxxed,” Bigtree, was a producer on the daytime network show “The Doctors.” He left that position to produce “Vaxxed” after doing extensive research on the CDC.
In April, actor and producer Robert De Niro, famous for his roles in films, “The Godfather Part III,” “Goodfellas,” and others, guested on the “Today Show” on April 13 this year to share his concerns about pulling “Vaxxed” from the Tribeca Film Festival.
Although the film festival is co-founded by De Niro, some of his colleagues and filmmakers at Tribeca advised him to drop “Vaxxed” from the lineup. On the “Today Show,” De Niro, who has a teenaged African-American son afflicted with autism, said afterward, he regrets pulling the documentary. He says he and his wife noticed a change in their son’s behavior and development nearly overnight after his son was administered the vaccine.
“There’s something going on with the CDC and the pharmaceutical industry,” DeNiro said. “There are inaccuracies and things you have to question. That was my reason for having the film. There’s something that is not quite kosher in all of this and that’s all I can say.”
The documentary features parents sharing similar stories to De Niro’s — how they noticed changes in their children’s speech, ability to walk, and comprehension days and sometimes hours after receiving the MMR vaccine. The parents all report having healthy, active children prior to the administration of the vaccine at 12 to 18 months.
Other celebrities have also engaged in the national dialogue about “Vaxxed” since it began screening earlier this year. Los Angeles-based rap artist Snoop Dogg, after viewing “Vaxxed,” tweeted to his millions of followers — “A must C. Thanks. @bigu1.”
The film contains many incriminating statements from Thompson, recorded without his knowledge.
“I was complicit [at the CDC] and I went along with this. We did not report significant findings,” Thompson says in the film. “I have great shame now when I meet families with kids with autism because I have been part of the problem.”
Although Thompson stepped forward to expose the alleged CDC cover-up, he maintains that vaccinations are critical to public health and insists his intentions are not to diminish their importance.
“I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives,” Thompson wrote in a statement. “I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits.”
Thompson says he and his team deviated from the original analysis of the study. The paper was the only study of the three autism studies he co-authored that didn’t have an external panel of consultants. Thompson said he and his colleagues met behind closed doors and decided to exclude reporting any racial effects from the findings. The other four co-authors, he said, destroyed documents.
But Thompson says he retained hard copies and computer files of the data without the knowledge of his colleagues. “Literally everyone else got rid of all their documents, so the only documents that exist right now from that study are mine,” he said. “It was the five of us behind closed doors for two years.”
Thompson turned over the documents, which amounted to 100,000 pages, to Rep. Bill Posey, R-Florida. In July 2015, Posey testified about the documents before Congress and is now calling for more action.
“Considering the nature of the whistleblower documents, as well as the involvement of the CDC, a hearing, and a thorough investigation is warranted,” Posey said. “So I ask, Mr. Speaker, I beg, I implore my colleagues on the appropriations committees to please, please take such action.”