Press "Enter" to skip to content

Vexxed At ‘Vaxxed’: Like an Infection

An email just arrived in my inbox recently titled "The Most Controversial Film in the Country — VAXXED — Set to Open in The San Francisco Bay Area this Friday!" Why it was not in my junk email box I am not sure, because it promotes a junk film pushing junk science.

The film, "Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe" did stir up some controversy when it was pulled from a New York film festival due to concerns that it contained harmful misinformation. The film was directed by disgraced ex-physician Andrew Wakefield, whose fraudulent research on a handful of kids kicked off an ongoing argument about the safety of vaccines — Wakefield alleged that certain vaccines caused autism. After his research was withdrawn and his medical license revoked — not only due to bad science but as he hid that he'd been funded with well over half a million dollars by lawyers hoping to sue vaccine manufacturers — and was angling to make a lot more cash from "alternative" approaches to diseases. Wholly discredited, Wakefield wrote a thick book attempting to resurrect his reputation and arguments. As one of the few who read it, I can tell you it was a complete failure in that regard.

Now comes this film, which was not available for viewing to me before deadline, but in any event prospective viewers should be aware of who is behind it. In addition to Wakefield, two other key people figure here. The film focuses on a so-called scandal at the Centers for Disease Control, wherein research supporting a link with autism was allegedly repressed. What actually happened was some paper copies of research results were tossed away. I've done this with hard copies myself. The data was still in computers, as most is. The so-called "CDC whistleblower," Dr. William Thompson, said this — although you won't see it here it in the film:"I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. 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."

Finally, there is one Brian Hooker, who is said to have exposed the alleged CDC fraud. But like Wakefield, deception is indeed something he knows firsthand — his own research paper on this topic was exposed as bogus — and he too did not disclose conflicts of interests and for those reasons his work was also retracted from publication. And these are the folks who keep saying that everybody else, from researchers to doctors to public health officials, are corrupt and only in it for the money.

Having one's published research withdrawn is an extreme occurrence, and as reputation is everything in science, honest researchers are very careful and we don't see many such cases. That this film features not one, but two such disgraced figures and the anti-vaccine movement relies so heavily upon them is telling. Their misinformation has spread like wildfire online, but anybody can look at fact-checking sites such as or many others to get educated in reality. In the meantime we have increasing outbreaks of preventable diseases among those who have refused shots for their kids or themselves — now linked conclusively to such unvaccinated sub-populations.

Vaccine science is complex and yes, imperfect. It has been controversial since the start, with doctors called "communists" and worse for many decades. And yes, there can be bad reactions to vaccines in some cases — but those are so relatively rare that it is like saying seatbelts, which have saved countless lives but contributed to harm in a few, are some kind of "plot."

A bit of scientific and statistical knowhow can go a long way towards dispelling such fears, but for most, just knowing that virtually all pediatricians, who love their kids as much as anybody, fully vaccinate their own kids — while often losing money on the shots they give in their offices (insurance reimbursement for some shots is poor, but that's another sad story). That's how much they believe in what the World Health Organization has called the most life-saving innovation of the past century.

A film like "Vaxxed" has not been and should not be censored. But anybody who contemplates seeing it should be made aware that they will not be watching science, but science fiction.

(Steve Heilig trained in public health, biology, epidemiology and economics at the University of California and works with the San Francisco Medical Society, among other organizations, and is co-editor of the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics. He receives no funding from vaccine or other pharmaceutical companies.)


  1. Jeannette Bishop May 4, 2016

    “I regret that my coauthors and I omitted statistically significant information in our 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics. The omitted data suggested that African American males who received the MMR vaccine before age 36 months were at increased risk for autism. Decisions were made regarding which findings to report after the data were collected, and I believe that the final study protocol was not followed.”

    The “Conclusion” in the second link is particularly interesting.

    “The remaining 4 coauthors all met and brought a big garbage can into the meeting room and reviewed and went through all our hard copy documents that we thought we should discard and put them in the large garbage can. However, because I assumed this was illegal and would violate both FOIA laws and DOJ requests, I kept hard copies of all my documents in my office and I retained all the associated computer files. This included all the Word files (agendas and manuscript drafts), Excel files with analysis and results, and SAS files that I used to generate the statistical findings. I also kept all my written notes from meetings. All the associated MMR-Autism Study computer files been retained on the Immunization Safety Office computer servers since the inception of the study and they continue to reside there today ….”

  2. Dorit Reiss May 5, 2016

    I saw the film. It’s about what you would expect, trying to scare parents from vaccinating using anecdotes to appeal to emotion and the debunked claims of the #Cdcwhistleblower manfuactroversy based on misrepresenting William Thompson’s evidence.

    Here is an analysis of those claims:

    And of the documents:

    As you point out, Andrew Wakefield has a history of misrepresentations. This film is true to that. Your conclusion – that this is fiction, not a documentary – is spot on.

    • heilig Post author | May 5, 2016

      Thank you. Snopes is also good on debunking these old allegations. In the meanwhile, a Hollywood version of this film is apparently being considered; I called the theatre where “Vaxxed” is being shown in San Francisco to ask how the attendance was. “It’s empty” said the staffer there. “Hardly anybody going?” I asked. “No, I mean, really empty – nobody”, he replied. Hollywood might want to rethink this one.

      • Dorit Reiss May 5, 2016

        Re theater attendance: The show I saw had one more person. My impression is that shows where Wakefield appears for Q&A are full, others less so – and the full shows are for Wakefield, and with mostly believers. Most are empty. I hope they do reconsider.

        Re filming the book: I think once they actually read Wakefield’s book, they may. I agree with you that it does not rehabilitate his reputation, and I would add that I was thoroughly chilled by the opening scene, which described in glowing term a mother jumping off a bridge with her autism child, in essence, murdering the child. It showed lack of respect for autistic lives, I thought.

  3. scott davis May 5, 2016

    Does anyone here care that vaccines are made from fetal cells from aborted babies containing human DNA, insect DNA, canine kidneys containing dog dna and dozens of other dubious ingredient’s in including aluminum, borax, mercury ect ect. Do you believe that? If you do then you will agree that vaccines are toxic and cause illness and death.

    Its true. Check it our on the CDC website.…/dow…/appendices/B/excipient-table-2.pdf

  4. Dale Evans May 5, 2016

    Interesting that folks will not trust Monsanto, but when it comes to Merck, they can’t wait to defend such a massively powerful and wealthy corporation. A corporation that has the funding to hire PR firms to post endlessly on forums like this one, or to write “reviews” of the movie. Behavioral engineering is alive and well in the 21st century. And it should be made illegal, with a mandatory death penalty. Who wants to support such a law?

    • heilig Post author | May 8, 2016

      Perhaps you didn’t actually read what I wrote? (and I left out that Wakefield also formed a ‘research’ outfit, paying himself about $500k, with no research to be published). The blatant financial scams here are on the anti-vaccine side. Merck and others (whom I do not much admire and have never had any $ from, and I bet nobody else who has posted here has either), would make more by selling medications for diseases vaccines prevent.

      As for your “mandatory death penalty” comment, well, that just makes you sound unhinged.

      Take a look here for a shot of reality:
      * * *

      VAXXED AND THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: How Robert De Niro learned the hard way about Andrew Wakefield and the antivaccine movement…

  5. Jim Updegraff May 5, 2016

    Wakefield is just another fraud in a long line of snake oil salesman duping the gullible. Parents that believe him and do not get vaccines for their children are guilty of child abuse.

  6. Delmar Bolshie May 6, 2016

    Vaccines are, on the level of the individual, experimental…no one can be sure about either the safety or the efficacy of an Nth vaccine administration. For an individual the administration of a vaccine is a medical experiment.

    Medical experiments require informed consent. This means that an individual has the legal option of refusing. It’s illegal to “require” a person to be vaccinated. Ask the nazi doctors… And it’s not just Nuremberg Law – it’s California Statute Law too…and AMA rules.

    It’s probable that for the individual an Nth vaccination is good. It’s certain that it’s an experiment…

    Informed consent is essential. That’s what missing from Mr Heilig’s article… And the omission makes his position itself suspect and biased.

    • heilig Post author | May 6, 2016

      Thanks. But you’ve packed many errors into your comment: Vaccines are proven to work and are as safe, or safer, than even many other medical interventions, so while one could thus say almost anything is “experimental,” it’s a useless assertion. Informed consent is important, yes, but must be based on facts, not unsupportable fears. In this case parents are usually the ones giving consent, and are not forced to do so but are presented with consequences for not doing so – you know, like adults. There’s nothing “illegal” about it, as courts have determined, and the AMA supports. I wonder where people get all this information but clearly you have not based your assertions on history, science, or ethics.

  7. Jim Updegraff May 6, 2016

    Mr. Bolshie is a good example of a parent’s lack of knowledge or refussal to accept the facts. spews misinformation and the one who suffers is their children

  8. Delmar Bolshie May 7, 2016

    Thank you for sharing.

    Here’s the dope from the AMA, in part: “Informed consent is a basic policy in both ethics and law that physicians must honor, unless the patient is unconscious or otherwise incapable of consenting and harm from failure to treat is imminent.”

    “Consequence for doing so…” Is that not force? Duress? Whatever it is it’s obviously prohibited in law and international law, eg the Nuremberg Code et seq.

  9. DC May 8, 2016

    Please tell me then why my infant son was injected with phenoxyethanol in his DTaP vaccine that the FDA said a whole year earlier was not safe for infants to consume? Please tell me why vaccines are given to pregnant women while the vaccine manufacturers say they have never been studied on pregnant women. Please tell me why vaccines are grown on continuous cancer cell lines, known as HeLa cell lines? Please tell me why I talked to a Mom in 2009 whose completely unvaccinated son tested positive for SV40?

  10. Whyte Owen May 9, 2016

    The post hoc ergo proctor hoc fallacy: Most, actually almost all, infants and children are vaccinated with standard cocktails and protocols.That’s millions. A few children become autistic. Most of those children would have been recently vaccinated, simple arithmetic. So of course, they became autistic after vaccination. Some children shoot themselves or a sibling or a parent by firearms left around the house. Most of those children had been recently vaccinated. Must be the vaccine, no?

  11. LouisBedrock May 9, 2016

    I am grateful to Mr. Heilig for his many articles defending science against obscurantist nincompoopery. However, I have some reservations about vaccines: mainly the role of the companies that manufacture and market them in testing and evaluating them.

    This excerpt from the BMJ sums up my own misgivings:

    “It may seem invidious to suggest that anything but humanitarian motives drive vaccine policy, but it is hard not to notice the professional and financial incentives that encourage strict adherence to the standard immunization schedule, and the tendency for officialdom to report the good news about vaccines but not the bad news. Most vaccine research is sponsored by the manufacturers and consists mainly of studies to establish short term efficacy with little real effort to look for rare but serious adverse effects. Our Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) is passive and records only a tiny percentage of adverse events after vaccination.”

    I would post a link to the article, but one needs a subscription to gain access. So I’ll just post the entire article below for those interested in reading it. Note the last paragraph and the paragraph about one polio vaccine in Britain.

    Vaccine mandates in the US are doing more harm than good
    BMJ 2015; (Published 26 August 2015)
    Allan S Cunningham, retired pediatrician, Cooperstown, NY, USA

    Tightening the rules for non-medical exemptions is not justified and will increase parental mistrust and resistance, argues Allan S Cunningham.

    Since my medical career began in 1962 I have seen the harmful effects of nearly all of the vaccine preventable diseases on the US immunization schedule. I have enthusiastically administered many thousands of vaccine doses and am glad that my children and grandchildren are well vaccinated. However, the current attitudes of public health officials about vaccine mandates and exemptions are arrogant and patronizing.

    In the US all 50 states and the District of Columbia require children and adolescents to be vaccinated before they attend school, college or preschool programs. Rhode Island has the most extensive requirements, including mandates for vaccination against hepatitis A and B, Haemophilus influenzae type B, rotavirus, human papillomavirus, and influenza. Medical exemptions are granted in all jurisdictions, and religious exemptions are granted everywhere but Mississippi and West Virginia. Only 20 states grant personal exemptions.

    The recent US measles outbreak has given rise to a lot of media hyperventilation about vaccine exemptions. There have been calls for outright bans on non-medical exemptions and financial penalties for parents whose children are not up to date with the immunization schedule. Some of the rhetoric directed against parents who obtain non-medical exemptions has been venomous.

    Vaccines are among the greatest medical advances of modern times, but public health officials have become intoxicated by success and have lost their sense of perspective. A case can be made for mandating vaccination against measles, which used to infect 3-4 million US children a year, but it is over-reach to mandate vaccination against hepatitis B, which was reported to infect only 300 children aged 1-9 years annually in the US.

    It may seem invidious to suggest that anything but humanitarian motives drive vaccine policy, but it is hard not to notice the professional and financial incentives that encourage strict adherence to the standard immunization schedule, and the tendency for officialdom to report the good news about vaccines but not the bad news. Most vaccine research is sponsored by the manufacturers and consists mainly of studies to establish short term efficacy with little real effort to look for rare but serious adverse effects. Our Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) is passive and records only a tiny percentage of adverse events after vaccination.

    Natasha Crowcroft and her public health colleagues in Toronto have been concerned about the safety, effectiveness, and cost of some of the newer vaccines, and they worry that expanding vaccine schedules threatens children’s uptake of truly life saving and cost effective vaccines such as the measles vaccine. Furthermore, they perceive serious ethical problems in the vaccine approval process and suggest that public trust has been undermined by allowing manufacturers and professionals with close links to industry to be involved in lobbying and decision making. I share their concern. We have forgotten that children given the DPT vaccine during the 1949 British polio epidemic had a 20-fold risk of developing paralytic polio, and there have been other unpleasant vaccine surprises since then, such as intussusception with the first rotavirus vaccine.

    In retirement, I am still asked questions about vaccine safety and effectiveness by parents and grandparents; they are not “vaccine skeptics” and they are not given to “free riding” at the expense of their neighbors. They simply want to protect the health of their children and grandchildren. Nevertheless, vaccine hardliners have lumped them together, mostly in the name of “herd immunity.”

    Herd immunity is an important concept, but it has been used to bully parents into rigid adherence to the immunization schedule. It is commonly suggested that 90-95% of children should be vaccinated to maintain herd immunity and prevent the spread of infections to vulnerable individuals. These numbers come mainly from mathematical models pertaining to measles, but their estimates actually range from 55% to 96%. The numbers are irrelevant to other vaccine preventable diseases. Nevertheless, they have been used to foster public disapproval of parents who decline any vaccine—and to enforce mandates.

    Public health and pediatric officials in the US want to reduce the number of non-medical exemptions by increasing the cost and inconvenience to families who request them. This is a mistake and will only increase mistrust and resistance. In general, Canada has better vaccine coverage than the US, mostly without mandates. Without mandates 96% of 2 year olds in Newfoundland and Labrador receive the MMR vaccine; the figure is only 86% in West Virginia, which has rigid mandates and no non-medical exemptions. A case can be made for mandating vaccines with a long record of safety and broad protection against highly contagious diseases. Even for these vaccines, however, knowledge is incomplete and some flexibility must be allowed for non-medical exemptions. In any case, we should not force parents and children into a procrustean bed of rigid mandates for every vaccine on the immunization schedule.

    Canadian scientists recently published data suggesting that this season’s flu vaccine doubled the risk of illness from influenza in children (crude odds ratio 2.18, 95% confidence interval 1.03 to 4.61, calculated from their table 3A). This is unpleasant news, particularly for jurisdictions that mandate flu vaccine for children, but it is not likely to be publicized in the US.

  12. Jim Updegraff May 10, 2016

    I was born in 1930 and I can remember what it was like when I was a kid. I had school mates who died or were seriously impaired by diseases which now can be controlled by vaccines that were not available at that time. I’ll repeat what I previously commented – parents do who not want their children vaccinated are guilty of child abuse.

  13. Valentin October 3, 2020

    Cunninham did not publish any article on The BMJ, he just responses, coments the others articles.

    Many people shows Cunninham’s responses as part of BMJ without telling is jus a 78 yo retired pediatric commenting there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *