The recent article about the TV movie, Hear the Silence, on Age of Autism was stunning.
It is the story of a mother's search for answers when her son regresses into autism, all the while facing overwhelming opposition from those she's forced to deal with. The mom, Christine Shields, comes to Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist, for help for her son---a story familiar to us in the autism community.
I was captivated by the passion Shields displays. She is the autism warrior mom. She has to be. People I've talked with about the film have told me that her role brought them to tears. Her story is also their story. Internationally known British actor, Hugh Bonneville, (The Gathering Storm with Albert Finney and the current PBS series, Downton Abbey) is ideal in the role of Wakefield.
I discussed the film with Dr. Wakefield. Here's what he had to say.
Question: How did this incredible film come to be made? How involved were you in the production?
Wakefield: I was interviewed for it. I believe that it was inspired by the fact that the writer, Tim Prager, has a son with CP. One day he was called to his son's school because another student had been bullying his son. The boy in question had autism. Tim met the mother weeping in a corridor, at a loss to understand why her son had started behaving badly. After talking with her, he was moved to write the story.
Following this, Prager interviewed Wakefield, talked to parents and put the story together.
In the film, it seems that Dr. Wakefield is the only one concerned about the lack of research on the MMR vaccine. In response to the claim that the science doesn't support single vaccines, he says, "The safety studies don't support the MMR."
Later, Wakefield says, "How is it that this triple vaccine gets licensed? Why didn't the trials spot the Urabe meningitis consequence? Why didn't their trials show any of the results we found?
“They didn't do it. They've got a single license for mumps, a single one for rubella, a single one for measles. So they go to the licensing agency and they say, each of these is licensed, we'll just put them together. Give us a license."
My question for Dr. Wakefield: Is this really what happened? Did they really license a vaccine that was never tested in combination? Are they really giving three lives viruses together, something that would never happen in nature?
Wakefield: It is fair to say that the safety studies of the combined MMR were inadequate, certainly compared with the studies of the single measles vaccine. Two of the three MMR vaccines licensed in the UK were known to be dangerous when they were introduced and had to be withdrawn 4 years later. They were not destroyed but sold on to developing countries where they caused the same side-effects meningitis.
Question: Where has this film been for the last 10 years? How could such a critical story be ignored?
Wakefield: It seems the TV company withdrew all copies, possibly under pressure from the government. I have no idea how it ended up being published again.
Question: Juliet Stevenson is incredible in her role. In the film, she plays Christine Shields, a fictional mother who tries to discover what made her son autistic.
In one report I found , Stevenson talked about what the role meant to her. "The actress had already admitted that, though her daughter had had the three-in-one inoculation, she was sufficiently anxious to have her son given the vaccines for mumps, measles and rubella at different times. 'In some strange way, it is quite liberating and therapeutic to act out my fears,' she had commented."
Stevenson found herself under attack for her part in the movie and she was accused of trying "to influence parents against MMR and dressing up science as entertainment."
She said, 'It was devastating to find we live in a country where you can't ask questions, particularly in the crucial area of the wellbeing of tiny children. I was in bad shape for a while after that. I just wanted to hide away. I do get quite smashed by what's written - and then I come back up.'
My question for Dr. Wakefield: Should the cast have been surprised at the reaction against the movie? Is vaccine safety so sacrosanct that it can't be discussed or portrayed in film?
Wakefield: Not at all. This is the expected reaction. There is no tolerance whatsoever for discussion on vaccine safety, particularly when a government is liable. The simple fact is that regulators have failed to gain the hearts and minds of parents because they've not been honest through their acts of omission and commission. The Urabe MMR episode in the UK is just one such example.
At one part in the movie Dr. Wakefield is told, "We're talking about a small group of children." He replies, "How many do there have to be before we get worried?"
Question: Is this really the attitude of health officials and mainstream medicine? Do they privately recognize that vaccines are injuring children and do they just accept it as the price we have to pay?
Wakefield: Many do that have spoken to me. Some will go to their graves believing that vaccines are completely safe.
At the end of the movie, in a very emotional crowd scene, Shields thanks Andrew Wakefield for his work and remarks that it's "hard to be a prophet in your own land."
Question: Will your work be vindicated and will the government recognize what's happened?
Wakefield: For the sake of children, I sincerely hope so. The autism-related bowel disease has been vindicated, most recently by the work of Arthur Krigsman, Steve Walker, and colleagues. The vaccine-autism association is on record in the US vaccine court.
In that last scene, Christine Shields says, "I used to think that I was alone, but there are more and more of us every week. And that's the biggest tragedy of all."
"I know that at night, lying in the dark, we all have the same thought that binds us together and stops us from giving up: When I'm gone, who will look after my child?"
"We can't stop now. We can never stop."
Question: What do the overwhelming numbers mean? How long can the denials continue?
Wakefield: The sheer numbers mean that damage is impacting society in so many ways, both directly and indirectly, that the people in general are beginning to face up to the truth. The message is getting through, but for so many it's too little, too late.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.