Robert DeNiro made the right call on anti-vaccination film

NIH doctor debunks celebrities on vaccines
NIH doctor debunks celebrities on vaccines

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NIH doctor debunks celebrities on vaccines 04:36

Story highlights

  • Vaccines save lives; a film by a discredited ex-doctor had no place at the Tribeca Film Festival, says Jennifer Caudle
  • She says the evidence is clear about the advantages of vaccines, and there's no link to autism

Jennifer Caudle is a board-certified family medicine physician and assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter @DrJenCaudle. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)When I first heard that the film "Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe" would be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, my heart sank. I thought, "Here we go again. It's not over."

The film is directed and co-written by Andrew Wakefield.
An important point to note is that Wakefield was the lead author in a study published in the medical journal The Lancet in 1998, that suggested a link between vaccines and autism. He was eventually found guilty of professional misconduct and the Lancet retracted the article.
Dr. Jennifer Caudle
In addition, Wakefield lost his medical license, and in January 2011, the British Medical Journal published a series of articles that concluded that data in the 1998 study was misrepresented or altered.
Robert De Niro, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, initially advocated for the film, stating, "Grace and I have a child with autism and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. ... This is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED. I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue."
In a sudden change, however De Niro has decided not to screen the film, stating:
"My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family. But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for. The Festival doesn't seek to avoid or shy away from controversy. However, we have concerns with certain things in this film that we feel prevent us from presenting it in the Festival program. We have decided to remove it from our schedule." (The filmmakers issued a statement condemning the festival's action.)
De Niro made the right decision.
Vaccines save lives. As a family physician, my life's work is to help patients stay safe and healthy. Not only do I support vaccines, but I routinely recommend and administer them. In fact, I give vaccines so often in my office that I keep a copy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention immunization schedule in the pocket of my white coat because I refer to it almost daily.
But the fact that this movie is gaining attention, and was even scheduled for a major film festival, is a reminder that even though we have made so much progress in the realm of preventing infectious diseases through vaccines, we have even further to go in convincing others of this.

Saving hundreds of thousands of lives

The CDC says that, in general, "vaccinations will prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years." This, alone, is compelling evidence that vaccines save lives.
The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, is the vaccine wrongly thought to be linked to autism. We now know that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism -- there have been numerous scientific studies over the years that demonstrate this. On the contrary, MMR vaccine is a wonderful example of just how effective vaccines can be.
The MMR vaccine has been so effective that measles was declared to be eliminated from the US in 2000. The outbreaks that have occurred since have mainly occurred in those who are unvaccinated. Between January 1 and July 24, 2015, there was a measles outbreak in the United States where 183 people contracted the disease, likely from a traveler who became infected overseas with measles, according to the CDC.
You might remember this outbreak. It was all over the news and had the world buzzing about measles and immunizations. News programs invited me on as a guest to discuss the implications of the outbreak and many patients called my office asking if they were fully immunized.
Measles, like many other diseases, can have serious complications. Pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling and inflammation of the brain) and even death are potential consequences of measles that I fear people don't realize, because we have largely eliminated the disease and we don't encounter it that often.
In addition, we must remember what life was like before we had a vaccine against measles. The CDC reports that before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, about 3 million to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States. Of those, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 4,000 developed encephalitis from measles.
As a society, we are lucky to have vaccines that prevent illness and death, not just for measles, but other diseases as well.
To be sure, many believe that vaccines are harmful and dangerous, and there is a strong misconception that vaccines are linked to autism. Some of my patients and friends feel this way.
Part of this skepticism probably comes from the 1998 study published in the Lancet -- and later retracted -- where the MMR vaccine was linked to autism. Some of the skepticism regarding vaccines may also be due to the large anti-vaccination movement that is often very vocal about vaccine concerns, and celebrity anti-vaccination endorsements which tend to gain a lot of media attention. Regardless of the source, I understand why many might question or be confused about the safety of vaccines.

The truth

The truth is, however, that vaccines do not cause autism. Many scientific studies show that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing autism. Vaccines reduce illness and save lives. Any perpetuation of the myth that vaccines do more harm than good is a disservice to people around the world.
Can vaccines have side effects? Sure, but when they occur they tend to be mild and resolve quickly with supportive medical care. Serious side effects are typically rare.
I know the vaccine controversy is a fierce one, but before you listen to every anti-vaccination story, claim or movie out there, get the facts.
Removing the movie, "Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe," from the Tribeca Film Festival sends a very strong message.
Vaccines save lives.