April 19, 2016
The documentary VAXXED: From Cover-up to Catastrophe debuted at the Angelika Film Center in New York City on April 1 following a firestorm of controversy after it was pulled from the lineup of the Tribeca Film Festival. The film is about what happened when a senior scientist at the CDC contacted another scientist, who happens to be an autism dad and vaccine-industry watchdog, with a secret to tell. As the film’s synopsis reads, “The scientist, Dr. William Thompson, confessed that the CDC had omitted crucial data in their final report that revealed a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. Over several months, Dr. Hooker records the phone calls made to him by Dr. Thompson who provides the confidential data destroyed by his colleagues at the CDC.”
The film’s debut was planned for April which, probably not coincidentally, is Autism Awareness Month. In recent years, April has usually been preceded by orchestrated PR campaigns heavily promoting vaccination, building the case for mandating children’s vaccines based upon the false idea that childhood diseases are “resurging” due to “anti-vaxxers” trying to avoid autism. This year, perhaps due to record low numbers of measles cases, the media was pretty quiet on the subject until the screening of VAXXED was announced by the Tribeca Film Festival.
Despite the concerted efforts of mainstream media to suppress the showing of this important film, it has played to sold-out audiences and is poised to spread the message of the “CDC whistleblower” story that was largely ignored when it broke in August of 2014. More stories of festival circuit sponsors and government officials demanding that the film not be screened keep surfacing. This blatant censorship has the public wondering what it is that “they” don’t want us to see and has inadvertently generated the kind of publicity that most filmmakers would envy.
Last year, the story of how the residents of Flint, Michigan were poisoned by lead in their water supply and how the government tried to cover it up came to light after a pediatrician had too many patients testing positive for elevated lead levels. Children were being damaged; a crisis was identified. Calls for the governor of Michigan to resign over this state of emergency were on a constant news loop. Why was the media so eager to listen to families with damaged children and run a tidal wave of coverage on it while at the same time turning a blind eye to blatant corruption at the CDC that has probably resulted in many more children getting sick? It has been widely reported that local government officials to tried to deny that the drinking water was unsafe in Flint, but government deception is somehow unbelievable when the words “vaccines, autism, and the CDC” are the story?
April 19, 1982 – long before April became Autism Awareness Month – a documentary aired on NBC during prime time, DPT: Vaccine Roulette, featuring investigative reporter Lea Thompson. That date has been pinpointed as the birthdate of the “anti-vaccine movement” by critics. Luckily a copy of the documentary can be viewed on YouTube, courtesy of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC).
Like most parents of school-aged children, I’m used to one-sided, biased reporting surrounding vaccine injury which has grown increasingly fierce over the years while statistics have reveal staggering increases in the rates of childhood illnesses, allergies, and of course autism. Print, television, and now social media outlets have formed a united front in an effort to control the conversation and quell any sort of dissent when it comes to vaccine safety. Therefore, I was shocked to see a broadcast television piece that clearly and powerfully presented injured children, many interviews with doctors, and studies that pinpointed vaccine reactions as far back as the 1930s but, as was pointed out, were since “forgotten.”
Doctors for the American Academy of Pediatrics and the FDA echoed the same lines we hear today: no evidence of a link between the DPT vaccine and brain damage; and any apparent damage was merely a coincidence. But then, unlike the current situation in mainstream reporting, there also were doctors that expressed concerns, agreed there was a cause for alarm, and confirmed that they believed that the pertussis vaccine did indeed cause injury, including SIDS.
Parents interviewed claimed their doctors attributed their children’s reactions and injuries to the shots. No one was ridiculed or told they were just a hysterical parent, although some did have to insist that their pediatricians take them seriously. In 1982, there was no Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). No records were kept of adverse reactions, so there was no data available to track what the effects really were. Manufacturers were not keeping detailed records, or when asked for them, the records suddenly disappeared. As stated in the broadcast:
The major reason we don’t know how many children are being damaged by the P part of the DPT vaccine is because doctors don’t report reactions. The government, medical schools, and the medical community have done a good job informing doctors of the need for the vaccine. But from what we found, many are not aware of the risks and reactions from the shot.
It doesn’t seem as though much has changed since 1982 in this regard as adverse reactions are still grossly underreported and denied, despite the existence of a reporting system.
One interesting observation is that the doctor from the CDC was not in the group denying injuries, risks, or the need for better studies or safety monitoring. That was the doctors from the FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The documentary estimated that the cost of caring for a DPT-injured person was $890,000 over their lifetime. Remember that was in 1982. Today’s figures for raising a child with autism are expected to be as high as $2.4 million over a lifetime. One child, who was severely disabled due to being repeatedly vaccinated in West Germany while her parents served in the military, sued the U.S. government for medical malpractice for not warning of the potential dangers, and the family was awarded a judgment of $600,000. Parents of injured children told stories that sound very like so many of the stories featured on the Hear This Well website. The old news footage of these families mirrors what so many autism families have witnessed, as their children suffered and regressed in ways that today would most likely result in an autism diagnosis.
According to the Institute of Medicine, in 1974, before the documentary DPT: Vaccine Roulette ever existed, “In Great Britain, questions about the safety of whole cell pertussis vaccines are widely publicized in the popular press after news paper accounts of a study suggesting adverse reactions.” These accounts supposedly resulted in vaccine uptake dropping from 80 to 30 percent in the U.K. So the “popular press in Britain” were the first to publicly question the link between a vaccine and brain damage, which unsurprisingly led directly or indirectly to steep declines in vaccine uptake in Britain and other countries. But fast forward nearly two decades, when thirteen British doctors publish a case series of twelve children with autism and gastrointestinal disease that calls for further investigation into a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism — as reported by parents — the lead researcher is crucified in that same popular press in Britain, as well as worldwide, even though the researcher urges continued vaccination with the monovalent vaccines. What changed?
In the U.S. in the early 1980s, pharmaceutical companies did not dominate the airwaves, social media did not exist, and true investigative reporting was allowed to thrive. DPT: Vaccine Roulette was groundbreaking for many reasons. It showed stories of vaccine-injured children on national television without censorship from the networks. It led to the creation of the parent advocacy group DPT (Dissatisfied Parents Together), founded by Barbara Loe Fisher who went on to form NVIC to educate parents on the subject of vaccines. This group of parents worked with Congress when the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 was passed to ensure that safety measures would be enacted and adverse events would be reported. Mothers of vaccine-injured children lobbied their state legislatures for personal and religious exemptions to the state mandates passed during the mid-1960s requiring children to have the DPT vaccine in order to attend public school. While Lea Thompson was the reporter who broke this story and started what many opponents call the “anti-vaccine movement,” the true soldiers are the parents who took up the fight on behalf of their children in order to protect other families. Most notably, Barbara Loe Fisher has been a tireless crusader and public speaker on behalf of vaccine-injured families everywhere for decades, and it all started with her viewing DPT: Vaccine Roulette on network television and realizing that what she was seeing had happened to her own child. She wrote the book DPT: A Shot in the Dark with Harris L. Coulter which helped to inspire 219 lawsuits filed in U.S. courts, alleging harm to a child from pertussis vaccine with an average $26 million in requested compensation. Is similar parent mobilization what “they” don’t want to happen again when people discover the fraud uncovered at the CDC? Can you imagine how fast the truth can spread in the digital age if the gatekeepers can’t control it?
Though Lea Thompson came under fire for her report, with an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) calling it “biased, histrionic and inaccurate” and “amoral and psychopathic,” she was awarded an Emmy for her work and went on to a distinguished career at NBC news where she was responsible for other notable achievements, including an investigation into doctors’ office errors that led to the Medical Laboratory Improvement Act of 1988 and an investigation into brain damage caused by infant formulas that resulted in The Infant Formula Act of 1980.
The downside of this success is that thirty-four years later the media climate is the polar opposite of that which enabled the broadcast of Vaccine Roulette. Looking at history, it would be easy to conclude that media reporting was primarily responsible for helping people to identify vaccine injury and question the non-existent reporting of adverse reactions that made them appear to be “extremely rare.” Pharmaceutical companies lobbied for laws that exempted them from liability for vaccines (ironically, the same 1986 act previously mentioned), making them much more profitable, and allowed them to advertise more openly. This has made them a more powerful influence than ever in terms of control over news reporting. Dr. Paul Offit blames parents of DPT-vaccine-injured children seeking financial support for their children for making it necessary to protect manufacturers from liability for the harm their products do. He makes the extraordinary claim that the pertussis vaccine was never to blame for these injuries despite the existence of a great deal of scientific and medical evidence for DPT-induced injury.
Thus, powerful stories of injured children shared by heartbroken families have been replaced by today’s media portrayal of parents as easily influenced by celebrities and looking for something to “blame,” and the wholesale dismissal of personal testimony as “anecdote.” Divisiveness is encouraged because when individuals band together with a cause in common, they become a powerful agent for change. Last week, something remarkable happened: Robert De Niro was interviewed on TODAY Show about the Tribeca Film Festival. The film that was pulled from the festival lineup was the hottest topic of discussion. In the interview, De Niro spoke from the heart about his reasons for wanting the film viewed and asked the reporters why they weren’t investigating the alleged fraud at the CDC. In this moment, De Niro was not a Hollywood icon, he was just another autism parent who genuinely wanted answers, “the truth” as he put it. But, unlike other autism parents, he had the opportunity to use national air time to express his concerns and tell the world that everyone should see this film — in spite of mainstream media calls for its removal from theaters, bad reviews that make one wonder if the reviewer has actually seen the film, and reports of it as a box office failure despite the facts that an online petition from change.org calling for the film to be restored to the Tribeca Film festival lineup gathered over 30,000 signatures of support and sold-out showings continue at theaters all over the country.
It seems that now, more than ever, independent filmmaking will be instrumental in achieving social change. Documentaries are the best way to reach an audience in a time when television, print and online media are tightly controlled by their corporate sponsors. VAXXED: From Cover-up to Catastrophe has the potential to change medical history in the same way that DPT: Vaccine Roulette did in 1982 if it can energize voters to contact their federal representatives in large numbers, urging a full investigation into this matter, and even more parents to share their families’ stories with anyone who will listen.
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