My (extended) response to commenters who insist our public health medical director should have watched Vaxxed before publishing his opinion piece

Our county’s esteemed public health medical director, Dr. Jim Shames, published his opinion, endorsed by many other local medical professionals, in two local news outlets expressing that our Varsity Theater is acting irresponsibly for screening the film “Vaxxed-from Coverup to Catastrophe.” [Read Dr. Jim Shames’ opinion piece here, or here.]

Many commenters insisted Dr. Shames (and other critics of the film) should have watched the film before criticizing it. I totally disagree, as the film-makers (Hooker and Wakefield, in particular) have long been exposed as self-serving purveyors of MMR vaccine misinformation (putting it nicely).

For one, it is well known that these film-makers want us to believe that CDC scientist William Thompson confessed a cover-up to Brian Hooker of certain findings of a 2004 study conducted by Thompson himself (et al.). The study purportedly showed a significant link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism among African American boys. And they claimed to have found a higher risk of “isolated autism” among MMR vaccinated children in that same 2004 study.

Hooker and Wakefield had already released several videos leading up to Vaxxed. One 2014 video was designed to frighten African American parents by invoking the horrors of the Tuskegee experiments. I find this tactic egregious!

To put this study in context, this now 12-year-old study was a relatively minor one, never intended to discover a causal relationship, and is dwarfed by an abundance of  solid evidence, including independent, international studies, showing no MMR-autism link (or any vaccines-autism link for that matter), including a much more recent and very large 2015 study.  

Hooker conducted his own “study” re-analyzing the 2004 CDC data (readily provided by the CDC for the asking; so much for a devious CDC trying to hide something), claiming to find an alarmingly high risk for African American boys.

But Hooker’s study was soon retracted by the publisher over undisclosed conflicts of interest and methodology concerns to where “the Editors no longer have confidence in the soundness of the findings.” And knowledgeable experts soon revealed how the study was botched, if not purposely misleading. (Also, see here.)

It is baffling that William Thompson would approach Brian Hooker at all instead of going through established channels to resolve his issues. Maybe someday he will explain himself.  Word on the web now from Hooker himself is that he found out:

Thompson will soon publish a paper asserting that “the MMR vaccine is NOT LINKED TO AUTISM in African American males…” (caps and bold mine)

Hooker is framing this as a sell-out by Thompson. Or did the guy realize he contributed to Hooker’s and Wakefield’s dangerous MMR scare-mongering and wants to set the record straight about MMR safety?

Regardless, as of yet, there is no evidence of any kind of a cover-up by the CDC researchers  of an increased risk of autism among African American boys nor among children with “isolated autism.” due to the MMR vaccination. And it’s highly suspicious whether Thompson even actually told Hooker they had found a meaningful association between the MMR vaccine and autism that was covered up.

As for Wakefield’s credibility, why would anyone who knows Wakefield’s history trust anything he says? He lost his medical license in 2010 for dishonest and unethical activities surrounding his 1998 MMR-autism-bowel study after persistent investigation by UK journalist Brian Deer and a record three-year-long GMC investigation.

Among many examples of his misconduct and dishonesty, Wakefield was planning to market his own single measles vaccine, standing to gain a fortune by discrediting the combined MMR vaccine. (Single measles vaccine are no longer produced in the US, and there is no credible evidence of any benefit.)

And he secretly was paid exorbitant sums by a law firm, using public funds, to drum up scientific evidence for a “new syndrome” — an MMR-bowel-autism link — as the firm represented plaintiffs in a large planned lawsuit alleging the MMR caused their children to become autistic.

The autistic children in his study weren’t random local hospital patients with bowel problems and autism, as Wakefield claimed. They were mostly (or all?)  children referred by the lawfirm to participate in the study.

Autistic children experienced medically unnecessary, painful, invasive medical procedures for Wakefield’s fraudulent study. One child became disabled after nearly dying from multiple perforations during a medically unnecessary colonoscopy.  It appears this case was not part of Wakefield’s own study but performed for similar investigation of the dubious MMR-autism-bowel link promoted by Wakefield, conducted at the same hospital.)

The Lancet fully retracted Wakefield’s (et al.) study in 2010, finally, but not before Wakefield’s  fear-mongering since 1998 through the media (and now his videos and the film Vaxxed) led to outbreaks of measles in locations where vaccinations had eliminated the disease, or nearly so.  Vaccine preventable disease outbreaks lead to unnecessary suffering, hospitalizations, disabilities, complications like pneumonia and encephalitis and meningitis, miscarriages, deaths, lower herd/community immunity, not to mention the monetary costs involved.

This film is not just about “safe vaccines,” as they would have the public believe. (Not much is 100% harmless or risk-free, if you think about it, including vaccines.) Eroding confidence in the integrity of the CDC and other entities responsible for safe vaccines leads to greater parent anxiety and vaccine refusal overall. Delaying vaccinations adds to outbreak risks. Risks of rubella and mumps outbreaks increase too when MMR rates decline.

So no, long story long, Dr. Shames and anyone else knowledgeable of the background and agenda of these film-makers should not have to torture themselves by watching the film before warning theaters not to promote this dangerously misleading propaganda film.

(Note: Minor updates made since originally posted.)

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One Response to My (extended) response to commenters who insist our public health medical director should have watched Vaxxed before publishing his opinion piece

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