When parents and teachers at a Southern California high school withheld a student-made film about vaccination out of concern for the social blowback, they voted for ignorance at the expense of science.
Carlsbad High has an award-winning broadcast journalist program that produced “Invisible Threat,” a documentary about “the science of disease and the risks facing a society that is under-vaccinated.” As the students and their advisors put the final touches on the film and prepared to release it, according the Los Angeles Times, “they found themselves cast as foot soldiers in a long-running immunization war between a small group of activists who argue that vaccines cause autism and the vast majority of physicians and scientists who say they don't.”
Readers of this blog will be familiar with the ongoing effort to protect public health in the face of vocal, and often prominent, people who have no scientific basis for their ridiculous ideas, and who, by not vaccinating their children, put everyone at risk. (See our blog, “More Proof that Vaccines Have Nothing to Do With Autism.”
In Carlsbad, the anti-vaccine lobby charged that the students had been duped by deceitful advisors who had been paid off by the pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines, and the criticism delayed the launch of the movie for months. In May, the parent-teacher association canceled an on-campus screening not because they didn’t believe it was a worthy film, but because they were afraid that anti-vaccine activists would show up.
In other words, they taught their kids that, even if you’re doing something right and righteous, if there’s a chance it will cause trouble, it’s best to relinquish your principles and sit quietly with your hands folded.
Nice lesson, eh?
The kids, to their credit, objected. "We're an extracurricular film club," Mark Huckaby told The Times. He narrated the film. "It's just not cool."
The filmmakers denied being pawns of anyone. And they had done some great journalism. Their area's historically high vaccination rate was starting to slip, and they knew there was a story there.
According to the California Department of Public Health, says The Times, the percentage of new kindergartners in San Diego County who seek exemptions from immunizations has increased from about 1 in 100 15 years ago to 4.5 in 100 last school year.
Measles and whooping cough, which had been in decline, were emerging anew, as in many other areas of the U.S.
The students read studies, interviewed medical experts who praised vaccines as well as parents who distrusted them and a local osteopath who treats autistic children.
Even Dr. Melinda Wharton, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) immunization services division said they did a good job interpreting the scientific material.
Some of the students initially believed vaccines and autism were linked, they said, but they changed their minds as they researched. "It was all social controversy. There was no science controversy," said Allison DeGour, another of the students involved.
The final version of "Invisible Threat" took a strong pro-vaccine position. And although it still hasn’t been seen by the large numbers it deserves, the parent advisor who served as the film’s producer announced that the movie would go on the Web on Aug. 1, in conjunction with National Immunization Awareness Month.