Why Robert De Niro Was Right To Pull Anti-Vaccine Documentary From Tribeca Film Festival

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De Niro

Photo courtesy of The New York Times

Facing a mountain of criticism over its plan to show a documentary about the utterly disproven link between vaccines and autism, the Tribeca Film Festival (co-founded by Robert De Niro) has decided not to show the film.

Am I glad the Tribeca Film Festival canceled the film? You bet.

Rodd Stein 2R WEB72

Rodd Stein, MD, FAAP

When Andrew Wakefield published his study in The Lancet in 1998 proposing a hypothetical link between the MMR vaccine and autism — a fraudulent piece of research that has since been thoroughly debunked — it was met with skepticism and also, unfortunately, panic. Most damaging, the rates of completion of the MMR vaccine series fell (most dramatically in England where the study was published), and subsequently outbreaks of measles increased and several children died[1]. Yes, children actually died because of Wakefield’s bogus study. I also want to mention that Wakefield’s medical license was revoked over his failure to disclose financial conflicts of interest and ethics violations.

Equally important as the impediments on controlling infectious disease that this anti-vaccine paper set in motion has been the energy, time, focus and money that have been diverted away from efforts to understand the real causes of autism and how to help children and families who live with it.

It was later uncovered that Mr. Wakefield falsified data

In the years since Wakefield’s 1998 study (retracted in 2010), multiple large studies conducted in several institutions all over the world involving millions of children have not supported his hypothesis, and no scientific organization anywhere agrees with it, including the CDC, AAP, WHO, IOM, and ACIP[2],[3],[4]. Yet, in the documentary currently canned by the Tribeca Film Festival, he continues to try to convince the world that he is right.

In my opinion, as a physician and as a human being, when a person commits an act of deception, which has led to the harming of another individual or group of individuals, possibly even leading to their death, and shows no empathy or remorse for such an act, this person deserves no respect, no interest, no attention at all.

Bravo to Robert De Niro and the rest of the Tribeca Film Festival staff for denying this film a screening. (Reportedly, Mr. De Niro and his wife have a child with autism, so I can understand his personal interest in the subject.) My only wish is that the cancellation would not give Mr. Wakefield any further undeserved time in the spotlight.

Missed opportunities to turn a wrong into a right

In closing, just think of how much good Wakefield could have done had he stated that his original work was flawed and that further studies had disproven his hypothesis. He could have gone further by apologizing for all of the damage he had done, and how he regrets that people became ill, and that all adults and children should now get fully vaccinated against the potential life threatening disease of measles. That would be what a conscientious scientist/doctor would do.

By Rodd Stein, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics.

[1] http://www.ovg.ox.ac.uk/measles
[2] Pediatrics. 2014 Aug;134(2):325-37. doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-1079. Epub 2014 Jul 1.
[3] Committee to Review Adverse Effects of Vaccines; Institute of Medicine; Stratton KFord ARusch EClayton EW, editors.SourceWashington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011 Aug.
[4] Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Feb 15;2:CD004407. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004407.pub3.

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About the Author: ML Ball