The movie Vaxxed, produced and directed by Andrew Wakefield, also features a British woman, Polly Tommey, who appears in several scenes in the movie and is listed as one of the seven producers. She has also been appearing with Del Bigtree and Andrew Wakefield at Q&A sessions following screenings of the movie. Ms. Tommey is well-known in UK autism circles, but not so well in the US.
A bit of backstory: in the UK, the dominant autism organization is the National Autistic Society (NAS), which began as a group of parents meeting in a private home in 1962. By 1965, the organization had opened a school for autistic children; by 1972 the organization held a national conference on autism, and by 1997, NAS had organized and funded a national helpline (you can see a timeline of NAS achievements here). it is worthwhile to note that NAS has several autistic board members. The focus of NAS has been to improve the quality of life for autistic people across the life-span, and has run several remarkable autism acceptance campaigns (see the 2008 I Exist for example).
In 1997, Jonathan and Polly Tommey's second son, William ("Billy") was born. According to a 2009 interview with The Evening Standard, Billy developed normally for the first 13 months of life, and began suffering health woes thereafter. Mr. Tommey, who was a fitness instructor, began to research dietary and other interventions. One of the treatments popular at the time in the US was intravenous secretin, a hormone. (See John Wills Lloyd's assessment from 1998, and updated in 2014). As recounted in their book Autism: A Practical Guide to Improving Your Child's Quality of Life, the Tommeys arranged to obtain supplies of secretin from the US and have it administered under medical supervision six times between November 1998 and September 1999. Somehow, the Tommeys were put in touch with Trevor McDonald, a prominent television figure in the UK, and "Billy's Story" was broadcast on ITV on April 29, 1999.
The Tommeys said that subsequent to the airing of the Trevor McDonald program, they received "thousands" of messages from parents of autistic children who were in desperate need of help. The Tommeys started a newsletter, The Autism File, which eventually became a glossy magazine. In 2007, the Tommeys established a charity, The Autism Trust.
Ms. Tommey was back in the UK national news in 2009, with a billboard campaign directed at then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Both Michael Fitzpatrick and Mike Stanton urged Prime Minister Brown to ignore Tommey's campaign.
...in the interests of children and families affected by autism, I hope that you will refuse support for her key activities – upholding discredited links between vaccines and autism and recommending unproven and untested fringe treatments.
The greatest danger is not that Ms Tommey and the Autism Trust are going to persuade the government to follow their lead. But by muddying the waters with their campaign they may give the government an excuse to back pedal on existing commitments while they consult with this self appointed autism constituency. The best way forward is to get behind the NAS campaign and keep up the pressure for the provisions of the autism bill to become law.
Notably, the Autism Trust was not one of the backers of the landmark 2009 Autism Bill sponsored by The National Autistic Society
Guardian reporter Amelia Gentleman called it: Attention-grabbing antics for autism
Tommey is controversial in other ways, too. Her desire for residential centres for people with autism is not universally supported, with many other charities advocating that care should be brought into the wider community. Her magazine's focus on nutritional remedies has raised questions: her husband, a nutritionist, runs the Autism Clinic, a private practice offering treatment through dietary modifications.
Much of the content of The Autism File consisted of articles in support of Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield was forced out of his position at Thoughtful House in 2010, after the General Medical Council struck him off the UK medical register. Tommey continued vocal in her support of wakefield
In January 2013, The Texas Observer published a long article , Autism Inc.: The Discredited Science, Shady Treatments and Rising Profits Behind Alternative Autism Treatments
The founder of Autism File is a woman named Polly Tommey, who is also the mother of an autistic child. In 2010, according to an Observer review of records kept by the Texas Secretary of State, Andrew Wakefield registered a company called The Autism File Global in Texas, listing Tommey as a fellow manager. In June 2011, an amendment was filed changing the company’s name to the Autism Media Channel. Today, its website contains general autism tips, diet and nutritional information, and various embedded videos, many of which feature Tommey. Wakefield remains a director of the company.
On April 6, 2013, The Guardian published Alex Hannaford's article, Andrew Wakefield: autism inc, which among other things details the many interrelationships, professional and personal, between the Wakefield family and the Tommey family. Mike Stanton gave his opinion of why the Tommeys might have left England.
According to Mike Stanton, British author of Learning To Live With High Functioning Autism and the father of a son with Asperger's syndrome, the Tommeys are now "linked to these people in America who think diseases are better than vaccines – that diseases will give you immunity and vaccines will kill you. [Tommey] knows Wakefield is a busted flush over here. That's why they've gone over there."
The Tommeys moved from England to the Austin area of Texas in October 2012. In March, 2015, Cassie McKee at Four Points News interviewed Polly Tommey. Local landowners Berta Bradley, and her daughter, Lisa Eckhart, donated 40 acres of land to the Autism Trust USA to build a residential facility for adult autistics. In the year since, little progress has been made on building the facility.
In 2013, Wakefield and Tommey were working on an autism reality TV show. As part of that effort, they became involved with the family of Alex Spourdalakis, the autistic young man later brutally murdered by his mother and godmother, in June, 2013.
Tommey and her Autism Media Channel worked with Dorothy Spourdalakis - recording the public pleas for help.
"He needs something simple, in the country, where he can run around, get the treatment that he needs so he can get better," said Dorothy Spourdalakis, Alex's mother, in the YouTube video.
"She was crying and so was the godmother. They were both in a terrible state - that's why we did that plea in the hospital for help," said Tommey.
In January 2015, Wakefield released a direct-to-DVD film, Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis, which was reviewed by autism parent and advocate Matt Carey. Tommey is listed as the producer.
Alex deserved better in life. He deserved medical care, be it psychiatric, standard medical or both, to bring him back to the happy person he was before his crisis. But Alex also deserves better in death. He deserves that his life and death not be used as a tool to promote Andrew Wakefield’s poorly supported one-size-fits-all approach to autism. He deserves to be the story, not have his story framed as “who killed Alex Spourdalakis”.
Alex deserves better.
In the summer of 2014, Wakefield's associate Brian Hooker released a paper that was withdrawn from publication in a matter of weeks. In the meantime, Wakefield and Tommey released videos hyping the story. In the fall of 2014, an early trailer for what was then called "Feast of Consequences" was released and Matt Carey reviewed it. (Here is an account of a presentation Wakefield gave under the "Feast of Consequences" title.)
If Mr. Wakefield weren’t doing so much damage to my community, his videos would be laughably bad. I’m not laughing.
Evidently Wakefield and Tommey spent much of 2015 developing the film that was released as "Vaxxed".
Here is Tommey's self-written biography from the Vaxxed website:
PRODUCER Polly Tommey is the mother of Billy, a 20-year old boy with autism, a book author, founding Editor-in-Chief of the world’s preeminent autism magazine The Autism File, and Autism Media Channel’s TV host and award-winning documentary film producer (“Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis”).
An outspoken autism advocate and founder of the not-for-profit Autism Trust in the UK and US, Polly has appeared in print and television media around the globe, gone head-to-head with top political leaders, and never compromised.
She has received multiple nominations and awards from, among others, The Women of The Year Foundation, Red magazine, and the British Society of Magazine Editors. She is also a Producer on “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe.”
On May 13, Orac at Respectful Insolence examined Polly Tommey's claim that she is not anti-vaccine.