He’s back. Just as last year’s measles outbreak appeared mercifully to have passed — and after a tremendous response to the Mail’s powerful campaign encouraging parents to vaccinate their children — the spectre of Andrew Wakefield has returned.
This paper revealed yesterday that Wakefield, disgraced ex-doctor and British false messiah of the ‘anti-vaxxer’ movement, is to make an appearance in London this week at the premiere of the film Vaxxed II.
Like its predecessor Vaxxed, it peddles pernicious falsehoods about childhood vaccination, linking them to serious illnesses and developmental conditions such as autism.
Little wonder that furious campaigners have warned that it ‘puts children’s lives at risk’, while Stephen Powis, medical director of NHS England, has condemned the ‘con-artists’ behind the film who ‘risk the health of our whole society’.
Professor Powis is right. Parents who see the film, and as a result decide not to vaccinate their children, risk exposing them to preventable illnesses — such as measles, mumps and rubella — that may cause complications and lead to disability and even death.
So, as both a GP and the father of a son with autism, you might expect me to agree with calls this week for the film to be banned. But I don’t.
In fact, I believe that Vaxxed II should be shown widely. Go to see it — but I urge you to question everything it tells you frame by frame.
I have faith in the public and believe people are quite capable of distinguishing between the pseudo-science of the anti-vaxxer campaign and the serious science behind childhood immunisation programmes such as the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) jab, especially once this information has been accurately relayed by professionals.
I have faith in the public and believe people are quite capable of distinguishing between the pseudo-science of the anti-vaxxer campaign and the serious science behind childhood immunisation programmes such as the MMR jab, writes DR MICHAEL FITZPATRICK (stock image)
The steady improvement in MMR uptake nationally over the past decade confirms the success of this strategy: openly discussing controversial issues, rather than trying to suppress debate with censorship.
Since 1998, Wakefield, 63, and his deluded cohort have promulgated the myth that a giant Establishment cover-up is silencing the public on the dangers of vaccination — that they are brave truth-seekers nobly pursuing a battle against powerful vested interests.
Rubbish, of course. But banning their propaganda only plays into this sense of victimhood and strengthens what little arguments the anti-vaxxers have.
The absurdity of the claims made in their films must be seen to shrivel under the spotlight of reasoned criticism and debate.
Vaxxed II, portentously subtitled ‘The People’s Story’, has been produced by Wakefield’s long-standing collaborator Polly Tommey, the British mother of a son with autism, who has in the past sought to buttress the anti-vaxx crusade by posing on a billboard emblazoned with the words ‘Hello Boys’ while wearing only a bra.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr, nephew of the late American President John F. Kennedy and a notorious anti-vaxxer, is an executive producer on the film.
It features parents who believe their children are suffering from the adverse effects of childhood vaccinations.
These accounts are said to be ‘harrowing and deeply unnerving’, while the film also shows ‘disturbing footage of autistic children’ manifesting symptoms of physical and emotional distress.
I am outraged at such manipulative and voyeuristic depictions of children with autism. These young people have done nothing to deserve being so disgracefully exploited to further the anti-vaxxers’ cause.
The first Vaxxed film, released four years ago, spread Wakefield’s now wholly discredited theory of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, first posited in a notorious and subsequently withdrawn paper in The Lancet medical journal in 1998.
It made headlines around the world, but studies by leading clinicians and scientists later exposed the deep flaws in this research. Wakefield (who is currently the squeeze of supermodel Elle Macpherson) never produced any credible evidence to support it.
In 2010, after his efforts had been proved fraudulent and unscientific, he was struck off the register by the General Medical Council. He moved to the U.S., became the prophet of the fledgling anti-vaxxer movement there and pursued a lucrative new career as propagandist and film-maker.