Before I begin: Autism is a natural variation in being human. Vaccines don't cause autism. In advocating for vaccines, I refuse to stigmatize autistic people. There's no "debate". On the one hand, there's the overwhelming weight of the scientific evidence: vaccines are not causal in autism. On the other hand, there are people who passionately believe that vaccines cause autism. These beliefs, while heartfelt, are mistaken. This erroneous belief that vaccines cause autism causes harm to autistic people in several ways. One is that the focus on vaccine causation has diverted attention away from the real needs of autistic people. Another is that the vaccine myth has lead parents to subject their children to harmful and useless "cures" such as bleach enemas, long courses of unneeded medications, and/or restrictive diets.
What happened: a film stigmatizing and exploiting autistic people and blaming autism on vaccines, Vaxxed, was slated to appear at the Tribeca Film Festival, at the behest of Robert De Niro's wife, Grace Hightower. After many people objected, Vaxxed was withdrawn and opened at a New York theater. The withdrawal brouhaha attracted a lot of media attention.
On Wednesday, April 13, Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal appeared on The Today Show to celebrate the 15th opening of the Tribeca Film Festival. The conversation turned to the Vaxxed ruckus, and De Niro said,
"I, as a parent of a child who has autism, am concerned, and I want to know the truth," he said. "I'm not anti-vaccine. I want safe vaccines. Some people can't get a certain type of shot and they can die from it — even penicillin. … If you're scientists, let's see, let's hear. Everybody doesn't seem to want to hear much about it. It's shut down, and you guys [the media] are the ones that should be investigating it."
Articles Explaining That Vaccines Are Safe, and The Role of Vaccines in Autism Has Already Been Investigated, Intensively
- April 13, 2016 Manny Alvarez MD at Fox News Dr. Manny: I'm talkin' to you, De Niro -- autism is not caused by vaccines
When it comes to health, false promises and misinformed theories lead to inefficient therapies and dead end research. At the end of the day, it leads to anger and the misperception that somebody “caused” whatever medical hardship you’re facing to happen to you, and that is not a good starting point when it comes to autism. After 25 years of watching the rates of autism increase, we are faced with two challenges in this field. One: we must do more for these young adults entering the real world. We need more education, more job opportunities, better government support and full integration into society. Two: we must support genuine autism research. We must find out where autism originates, which could possibly begin in the womb.
Creating an environment of suspicion only delays what we must accomplish today. De Niro, I need you and your celebrity pals to concentrate on today. I know that you chose a different career path than I, and that it takes many years of scientific training to understand cellular biology, but that is not an excuse to give any form of validity to Wakefield’s quack claims. Rather than acting as a mouthpiece for conspiracy theorists and the like, it’s time for you to use your celebrity power for good and help me, a father like you, get the answers we want.
- April 13, 2016, Russell Saunders MD at The Daily Beast Robert De Niro Sticks Up for Anti-Vaxx Documentary
I would happily sit down with De Niro, pause Vaxxed at any moment of his choosing, and rebut every single point he cares to mention.... And there is a perfectly good, accurate movie about vaccines for people who want to watch one.
But it is lamentable that once again a celebrity has cast in his lot with people willing to ignore, deny, or even misrepresent medical science. De Niro’s comments not only shake his credibility as an arbiter of quality documentary films, they have the potential to make our country less safe from disease.
- April 13, 2016 Rupal Pinto, MD, FAAP at Doc2mom The story they don’t want you to hear
There’s nothing like a new celebrity wagging his finger at the medical establishment to make a doctor-mom want to vomit. A lot. The most recent iteration: Dr. (okay, not a doctor) Robert DeNiro stating that physicians and researchers have not been paying sufficient attention to the conversation about whether vaccines are related to autism (Antique Spoiler alert: they’re not.) Doctors deal with this issue every day – thanks to the work of charlatans like Andrew Wakefield – and millions of dollars have been spent trying to see if there is a relationship. No relationship has been found. Mr. DeNiro says that “nobody wants to talk about it.” Not true. We talk about it often with patients and we all do our reading and our homework and I have personally read that horrific Wakefield study enough times to know that it’s plainly a bad study, and warrants no documentary, no expose, and certainly no recognition at an internationally renowned film festival. Interesting that DeNiro pulled “Vaxxed” because filmmakers were backing out.
- April 13, 2016 Eric Boodman at Stat News Robert De Niro Defends Discredited Idea Linking Vaccines to Autism
That echoes a strong theme in the “Vaxxed” documentary, which holds that the CDC has covered up vital data and committed fraud. It’s based on concerns that a CDC scientist, William Thompson, raised about a study that he and several colleagues published in the journal Pediatrics in 2004. But as the conspiracy theory grew, Thompson came forward with a public statement. He said he wanted to make “absolutely clear” that he believes vaccines save lives and that he would never advise a parent not to vaccinate.
- April 13, 2016 Simon Delott at Fishwrapper Robert De Niro Continues to Disappoint
No, De Niro, this isn't some sort of conspiracy. There are basically two reasons that people didn't want the film shown.
The first is that it's not just a falsehood -- it can actually do harm. Some people -- a small minority, but some of them anyway -- will believe it. They'll latch onto it because the bogus cause-and-effect story "sounds right" to them. Maybe they like conspiracy theories. Maybe they're just afraid of needles. Children get sick when we lose herd immunity thanks to people opting out of vaccines.
Secondly showing something like this lends credibility to the idea. Which is, as we said, harmful. Those jerks would get to slap "screened at the Tribeca Film Festival" stickers on every copy of their movie. They can sell their movie and put it online for people to watch, but showing it at Tribeca is giving them a platform that they do not deserve.
- April 13, 2016 Anna Merlan at Jezebel Robert De Niro Promotes All Kinds of Anti-Vaccination Nonsense in Wild Today Interview
The hosts gently asked De Niro if he knew there’s a broad scientific consensus that vaccines don’t cause autism.
“I believe it’s much more complicated,” he answered.
- April 13, 2016 Hilary Lewis at The Hollywood Reporter Robert De Niro Talks Autism and Vaccines: "I Want to Know the Truth"
Rosenthal, who claimed the fest has "equally controversial" movies still in its lineup, also seemed to feel that Vaxxed had been given more than enough attention.
"Clearly the festival has about a hundred other movies that are in the festival," she said. "This was only going to be screened once. They've certainly had their voice and their time."
- April 13, 2016 Maria Puente at USA Today Robert De Niro says he believes in link between vaccines and autism
But numerous studies by doctors and medical researchers have not found any such link. Moreover, Vaxxed and its creator have been discredited: It was directed by Andrew Wakefield, the "father" of the anti-vaccine movement, who first linked vaccinations and autism in a 1988 report that later had to be retracted. Also, his medical license was revoked.
De Niro's return to the vaccines-cause-autism conflict threatened to upstage his latest honor. GLAAD's annual excellence award goes to media professionals "who have made a significant difference in promoting equality and acceptance" of LGBT people.
- April 13, 2016 Rachel Paula Abrahamson at US Magazine Robert De Niro: My Wife Saw a Change in Our Autistic Son After He Was Vaccinated
Discredited doctor Andrew Wakefield directed the film. In 1998 he published a paper in medical journal The Lancet suggesting a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and childhood developmental delays, but no other researchers have ever been able to replicate his findings. Wakefield’s paper — based on just 12 subjects— was rescinded by the journal in 2010, and he was barred from practicing medicine in the U.K. after the General Medical Council charged him with dishonesty and abusing developmentally challenged children.
- April 14, 2016 Byron Whyte MD at The Scientific Parent What Is Thimerosal and Why Is It In My Kid’s Vaccines?
In spite of the overwhelming, worldwide, scientific evidence that vaccinations are safe and effective, claims of “toxins” and “poisonings” continue on the internet and at family gatherings. I won’t link to them here, but trust me. My job, as I see it, is to continue to fight the good fight against vaccine misinformation. The more people understand what we are giving their children, the more vaccine uptake and suffering prevented.
- April 14, 2016 Phil Plait at Slate Robert De Niro Defends Anti-Vax Nonsense
And that’s the irony here. The interviewer asks him if he wanted to air the film “to start a conversation,” and De Niro says, “To shut (the conversation) down, there’s no reason to. If you’re a scientist, let’s see. Let’s hear. Everybody doesn’t seem to want to hear much about it. It’s shut down. And [to the interviewer] you guys are the ones who should be doing the investigating.”
But the investigating has been done. Over and again. And every time, when the studies are done properly, the results are the same: Autism isn’t linked to vaccines. Again, this shows De Niro hasn’t done his due diligence here.
- April 14, 2016 Orac Knows at Respectful Insolence Raging Bullsh*t: Robert De Niro is the latest celebrity antivaccinationist to spew pseudoscientific nonsense to the world
You know, despite apologetics for De Niro that I’ve read, I’m sorry, I know antivaccine. De Niro is antivaccine. Either that, or he’s doing a very good imitation of being antivaccine. Hell, I could play antivaccine Bingo! with this interview. It hits all the major antivaccine talking points, complete with the “I’m not ‘anti-vaccine’; I’m pro-safe vaccine.” De Niro states it word for word! He’s also wrong. This is a question that’s been asked and answered many times. Vaccines are not associated with autism. Scientists have already looked at this on multiple occasions.
- April 14 2016 Andrew Gregory at The Mirror (UK) Why Robert De Niro is wrong about a link between autism and MMR vaccinations
Health experts stressed there is “no credible evidence” of any link between the MMR vaccine and autism after Hollywood superstar Robert De Niro claimed a connection.
- April 14 2016 Skeptical Raptor at Skeptical Raptor Anti-vaccine Robert De Niro morphs into Jenny McCarthy
We all want safe vaccines. But guess what De Niro – we already do. Unless, you’re a fan of the Nirvana fallacy, where if something isn’t perfect, it must be junk. No vaccines aren’t perfect, but they are probably safer than any medical procedure out there.
Let’s take a closer look at his nonsense.
Trace Amounts? Bad movie that pushes bad science and several outright lies.
CDC whistleblower? Oh come on, that’s been utterly debunked
Vaccines and autism? How many times do I have to say this. Vaccines have nothing to do with autism. They aren’t linked. There’s no correlation. And there’s no causation. Robert De Niro can say it a billion times, and it’s not going to be true.
And vaccine safety once again? Wait, I’ve heard this before. The claim that “we just want safe vaccines.” Who said it? Ah, I remember. That daft actress, Jenny McCarthy, who continually claims that she’s not anti-vaccine, just wants safe vaccines.
....But the anti-vaccine Robert De Niro has no viable claim to authority, expertise, or knowledge on vaccines and autism. He should just shut up.
- April 14, 2016 Tanvier Pearl at The Stir Robert DeNiro Wants 'Safe Vaccines' & There's Nothing Wrong With That>/a>
While I don't agree with everything Robert DeNiro says about vaccinations, I do think he has a point in wanting the movie to be seen. Why can't we have a heart-to-heart conversation in the parenting world about vaccines, the pharmaceutical companies, and those moms and dads who strongly feel there's more to the debate than meets the eye -- or CDC report?
At the very least, I think such a discussion would (hopefully) empower folks on opposing sides to agree to disagree in a more cordial way -- instead of damning someone for something you don't agree with. In my opinion, vaccinations do and have saved lives, but that doesn't mean I'm not open to hearing more about the reasons why other parents choose not to vaccinate their kids.
- April 15, 2016 Julianna LeMieux at American Council on Science and Health Dear Robert De Niro...
If you have watched “Vaxxed” (produced by Andrew Wakefield, co-written by Andrew Wakefield, and starring Andrew Wakefield) you gave Andrew Wakefield 90 minutes of your time to make his point. And, although he is a complete failure as a physician, a scientist and an ethical person, he is a mastermind at making his own corrupt actions sound convincing.
I am asking you today, then, to give the scientific community 90 minutes. What we won’t bring are anecdotal, and emotional, stories from parents or heart tugging videos of children with developmental challenges (both made even more convincing when embellished with the right music and the right lighting).
What we will bring to the table are peer reviewed scientific articles full of robust data that are clear, and were collected using the scientific method. If you give us the chance, we’ll teach you why cutting this film from your festival is a decision that you can feel proud of and why you have the full support of the scientific, medical and public health communities behind you.
- April 15, 2016 Orac Knows at Respectful Insolence Raging Bullsh*t, part 2: J. B. Handley enters the fray to defend Robert De Niro’s antivaccine stylings
And personally, I remain dumbfounded at Handley’s apparently belief that he knows what he’s doing when analyzing science. Contrary to Handley’s claims, childhood vaccination schedules are evidence-based. Contrary to his claims elsewhere, the relationship between thimerosal in vaccines and autism has been studied—many times!—and no relationship to autism has been found; it is a failed hypothesis. There is no correlation between the antigen load from vaccines and the risk of autism, and there is no correlation between autism and the on-time receipt of vaccines compared to dosing vaccines later. In other words, a key antivaccine talking point, “too many too soon” is not valid. There are even monkey studies (once touted by Handley) showing no correlation between vaccines and autistic-like symptoms.
- April 15, 2016, Maggie Fox at Today De Niro says 'find the truth' on vaccines: But scientists already did
But scientists have debunked, often multiple times, every assertion that De Niro makes. They've been made and knocked down many times in the past 20 years as a small but highly vocal group of vaccine critics raise them.
- April 16 2016 Catherine Bennet at The Guardian Movie stars have their uses: medical science isn’t one of them
Although purportedly a factual work, Vaxxed, to judge by numerous early reviews, transports viewers to a world where none of the above [Wakefield's disgrace] ever happened. In this parallel world, it is the immunisers, not the former gastroenterologist, who go in for cover-ups. So comprehensively is contradictory evidence ignored here that Wakefield permits himself the liberty of rehashing some of his earlier – utterly discredited – claims, which seemed good reason to many of us, in 1998, to worry about the MMR jab.
The Lancet piece warned of “developmental regression”. This time, he throws in the prediction that, if MMR usage continues, half of all America’s boys will be on the autistic spectrum by 2032. To be fully apocalyptic, his message requires autism itself to be portrayed – deploying footage of distressed-looking children – as an invariably frightful diagnosis. It is as if Wakefield wants parents to panic anew with the same, injurious consequences for the understanding of autism.
Articles Agreeing with Mr. De Nero: Vaccines are Unsafe and Cause Autism
- April 13, 2016 JB Handley at Medium What’s with DeNiro’s Tribeca co-founder, Jane Rosenthal?
Jane Rosenthal is closely aligned with a view of autism that many of us strongly disagree with, and it goes something like this:
- Autism is genetic, and it’s a condition of the brain
- Pharmaceutical drugs will be developed that can keep autism in check, and we already have some promising drugs to fight autism
- Or something like that. Basically, autism is the next great profit center for pharmaceutical drugs and genetic engineering.
- April 13, 2016 Matt Agorist at The Free Thought Project De Niro Finally Speaks About ‘Vaxxed’ — ‘People Should See it, There’s a Link to Autism’
While we have everyone from attorneys to biologists, to political scientists who write for the Free Thought Project, none of us are doctors, so we do not make recommendations about what you and your family should do in regards to vaccination. That being said, when we see critical information about vaccines being kept from the public, we will expose it every single time.
- April 13, 2016 Tami Canal at March Against Monsanto Robert De Niro Defends Controversial Autism Film: ‘Let’s Find Out The Truth’
The mainstream media has shown zero journalistic integrity as far as investigating the facts that comprise the film VAXXED. Why isn’t it headlines news that CDC senior scientist-turned-whistleblower Dr. William Thompson handed over evidence to Congressman Bill Posey proving that he, Dr. Frank DeStephano, Dr. Coleen Boyle, and Dr. Julie Gerberding were a part of a team that literally threw away the futures of hundreds of thousands children? These respected scientists decided that the pharmaceutical industry’s profit margin was more important than the lives of innocent children, so they callously destroyed the damaging evidence in a trash can.
- April 14, 2016, Mike Adams at Natural News, Robert De Niro denounces medical totalitarians: 'Let the people see VAXXED' and decide for themselves what the evidence shows
Nearly all pharma-controlled media outlets also insist that any link between vaccines and autism has been "disproven." See this Daily Mail article by Hannah Parry, which parrots the typical propaganda. In reality, the link has been known by the CDC for well over a decade, but it has been deliberately hidden. If hiding scientific truth is to be accepted as "disproving" something, then the entire field of science deserves no credibility at all.
- April 14, 2016 JB Handley at Medium Who should parents trust, Robert DeNiro or Dr. Ari Brown? (Because one of them has to be lying)
AAP Spokespeople , and many other interested parties shamelessly lie about the studies that have (and haven’t been done) regarding vaccines and autism.
- April 14, 2016 Anne Dachel at Age of Autism Autism 'Today' Freaks Itself Out, Goes Running Back to Pharma
What Robert De Niro said on the TODAY Show on Wednesday was addressed by NBC on Thursday's show, and what was done was a huge attempt at damage control using industry-backed sources. The network had to dispel the idea that De Niro put forth, that vaccines can cause autism.
In typical mainstream media style, NBC cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a doctor from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Ari Brown, in support of the safety of vaccines and in opposition to the possibility of any link to autism. (The vast web of pharmaceutical industry ties to the AAP were, of course, not included.)
- April 14, 2016 Dan Olmstead at Age of Autism De Niro Drops Da Bomb
I don't know what impact Robert De Niro's interview on the Today show Wednesday will have on those who don't believe vaccines cause autism, but I do know the effect it has already had on those who do. The word is "galvanic." This was a call-up-your-friends moment, and we don't get those too often.
It's been, as they say, a long cold lonely winter, and I'm not speaking meteorologically. The condescending and ridiculous premises of books like Neurotribes and In a Different Key; the refusal of those I call the "greasy nothing-burgers" in Congress to confront the William Thompson revelations; the long slog of the Merck mumps whistleblowers; the removal of Vaxxed from the Tribeca Film Festival; the triumph of SB-277 forcing vaccine mandates on California schoolkids; all of it is very wearing. And I say that without having an affected child.
- April 16, 2016 Lori Alton at NaturalHealth365 Robert De Niro wants to know the truth about vaccines and autism"
In an obvious attempt to refute public perception that she and De Niro had given into pressure from the pharmaceutical industry, Rosenthal insisted it was filmmakers (not sponsors or donors) who threatened to boycott the festival – unless the film was pulled from the lineup. De Niro jumped in, stating, “I find that amazing, and we are going to talk about that.” He later added that at the time, he did not even want to ask where the resistance was coming from, “But now I will ask.”
When Rosenthal further attempted to move the interview away from the topic of vaccine dangers by pointing out that the festival had included a film on the life of a family with an autistic child, De Niro became visibly agitated, interrupting her and pointing out that the documentary she was referring to was beautiful, but did nothing to further the debate over vaccine dangers.
- April 16, 2016 Paul Thomas at Health Impact News Pediatrician Dr. Paul Thomas Agrees with Robert De Niro: “Let’s Find Out The Truth” About Vaccines
It is tempting to point fingers, blame vaccines, and be outraged by the way the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have actively closed the door on what, given the rising numbers of children with autism, should never have been a closed issue. It is becoming increasingly clear that the science on the possible link between vaccines and autism has not been done accurately or responsibly, as this senior scientist at the CDC admits. That’s what the movie Vaxxed is about—how the government deliberately and knowingly destroyed data showing a connection between the timing of the MMR vaccine and autism risk in African-American boys. Once we start asking the right questions and stop throwing out the data that does not conform to our pre-existing ideas, we can start getting real answers.
- April 16, 2016 Gary Barnes at TruthKings De Niro’s Secret Anti-Vaccination Meeting Revealed
It would be difficult to summarize De Niro as anything but a supporter of anti-vaccination premises at this juncture. As speculation has grown and De Niro himself denies any “anti-vaccine” sentiment and claims to push only for “safe vaccines,” he is likely learning that to the masses, there is no line of separation. Even the slightest admission that vaccines could cause any negative effects incites the masses to revile your name and creates a stream of social backlash.
- April 16 2016 Levi Quackenboss at Levi Quackenboss The Unintended Consequences of #VAXXED Getting Axed
So, thanks CDC and all of your multiple masks that you hide behind. Thanks, Jane Rosenthal for being such an uptight control freak. Thanks Mayor Turner for all of the Texas media coverage. If MMR rates plummet and the media starts blaming Dr. Wakefield’s movie I hope you think of Barbara Streisand and all of the unintended consequences of your attempts to tell the American public what they can and cannot see.
As usual, I will keep silently updating this list as new posts appear
- April 2, 2016, Vaxxed the Movie: Livetweets and commentary by vaccine advocates, skeptics
- April 2, 2016 Running List of Reviews of Andrew Wakefield's film, Vaxxed.
- April 16, 2016 What Andrew Wakefield Thinks About Autistic People: A Blight.
Photograph taken sometime between April 3 and April 9, 2016.
left to right, John Raatz, Jim Carrey, Grace Hightower, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Robert De Niro, and Eric Gladen )
John Raatz is the Founder and Principal of the pioneering “transformational” marketing & PR firm, The Visioneering Group, and is also the Executive Director at the Maharishi University of Management's David Lynch MFA in Film
Jim Carrey is an actor best known for his role as Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber and Dumb and Dumber To.
Grace Hightower has been married to Robert DeNiro since 1997
Robert F. Kennedy jr. is an attorney who has a second career as an anti-vaccine activist.
Robert De Niro is a renowned actor and the co-founder of the Tribeca Film festival
Eric Gladen is the director of the anti-vaccine film, Trace Amounts (Review Of Trace Amounts – Bad Science And Conspiracies, SciBabe Goes to the Trace Amounts Premiere