Rowan Clarke has very strong feelings about the Anti-Vaccination lobby and the film Vaaxed. which recently screened in Dublin. Ronan Clarke is a Dublin political activist.
Many weeks ago, I was casually browsing through google, randomly clicking on news links, trying to keep abreast of what was going on at home and abroad. Out of the corner of my eye as I was scrolling down through the links, a headline caught my eye: 'Anti-vaccine film to get Dublin screening.’ Out of curiosity I gave it a click.
As I wasn’t a subscriber of the Times.Co.Uk and had no intention of paying to be one, I read the only visible paragraph, which explained that a controversial conspiracy theory themed movie was coming to Dublin. Titled Vaxxed, it was centred around the Anti-Vaccination movement, which I was to find later was more a cult then a movement.
The messiah revered by this cult is one Andrew Wakefield, a disgraced former Doctor, the progenitor of the anti-vaccine phenomenon, who in the late 90’s submitted a paper to the medical journal The Lancet in which he made the bold claim that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and Autism.
While this paper and Wakefield’s claims were always treated with great suspicion, it all came to a head in the late 2000’s, after much investigation by the General Medical Council in Britain.
It transpired that Wakefield’s studies and research that formed his paper were found to have been carried out unethically and frequently, with many serious charges levelled against Wakefield. This was all on the back of investigations by journalists who insisted Wakefield had taken bribes from trial lawyers involved in cases taken by parents of Autistic children, claiming MMR vaccines had harmed their children.
The GMC went on to find that Wakefield had deliberately misled his patients (all children), ignored their wishes and subjected them to unnecessary procedures. Wakefield was struck off the British medical register and is no longer allowed to practice medicine in Britain.
Despite his very public shaming and fall from grace, a cult of personality has developed around Wakefield.
His adherents still refer to him as ‘Doctor’ and think of him as a modern-day martyr, discredited by Big Pharma and the Medical establishment to cover up some grand conspiracy.
‘Vaxxed, from cover up to catastrophe’, was the creation of Wakefield, directed, produced and screen written by the former Doctor.
It is seen among the anti-Vaxxer (as they are now termed) cult and assorted conspiracy obsessed eccentrics, as Wakefield’s redemption, proof of his vindication.
For everyone else it is an obvious vanity project of little merit, at best a flashy piece of impressively edited propaganda.
Watching it myself with an open mind, I found it to be a visually well put together documentary, but not convincing in its arguments, which have been widely debunked as of present by credible professionals.
Still, while watching it, I worried that there are many impressionable and gullible people out there who could be swayed by the message of this flick with its flashy graphics, dramatic music and the serious tone of the narrator, which unfortunately is enough to convince many out there unable to think critically for themselves.
The big and obvious danger of people being hoodwinked by this irresponsible propaganda, is that parents are taken in by the “Vaccines causes Autism” quackery the Wakefield movement promote.
These parents, out of irrational fear, may not go down the responsible and trusted road of having their new-borns vaccinated from a variety of deadly and debilitating diseases that are mostly in massive decline in the Western World or all but extinct due to the advent of vaccines.
These dangers have been realised in recent times, as there have been dozens of deaths attributed to unvaccinated children. In March of 2017, it was reported that in a six-month period, 17 children in Romania had died from the complications of measles, preventable had the children been vaccinated.
This just goes to show the damage the anti-Vaxxer cult is capable of. It quite literally kills children!
Unfortunately, in Ireland there is a small yet established anti-Vaccine network in place. And as can be expected its made up mostly of the parents of Autistic children.
Other than from a News source in Britain, I could find no other information on this purposed Vaxxed showing in Dublin. So, I decided to do some digging, joining some conspiracy theory forums and anti-vaxxer groups on Social Media.
The world of Autism is one I’m well accustomed to. My eldest son of 8 years of age is non-verbal autistic. While profoundly intelligent and functional, he presents many challenges in his inability to communicate and his awkwardness in understanding social cues and a noticeable lack of understanding when it comes to emotions.
Still he Is very much part of the family, treated no different from our other children, and loved by all our extended family.
In coming to understand his non-conventional ways of communicating, play and some of the eccentricities he exhibits, I’ve come to form a very close bond with him and would regard him a best friend. This despite him not being able to mutter a word to me. I feel as if I can understand his wants and needs.
But I am not going to paint all in the garden as rosy. I would be lying if I was to suggest that living with a severely autistic people is easy. It can be a very hard life - taxing in every regard.
When raising an autistic child, the commitment and effort needed is more then what would be required with a so called ordinary child.
The unpredictable nature of various forms of autism coupled with issues with communication, difficulty with social settings, sometimes sporadic anger and violence to one’s self or others and the potential for danger by the child not having the means to process everyday dangers we take for granted: you are constantly on guard and need large levels of patience (although from experience this too can take a long time to develop).
When your child has autism, you quickly learn that your life and family life will be vastly different in many challenging ways.
There will be no high-powered career, no time for a healthy social life, the potential for negative effects on mental health from the stress involved and it is extremely trying for relationships, with large divorce rates and ended partnerships common with the parents of Autistic Kids. You consign yourself to the fact that this is your life now.
Of course, none of the hardships attributed to autism is the fault of the kids themselves. As parents, we have an instinctive love for our children and learn to accept them as they are. It’s a learning curve that takes time and patience. I would like to think that at this stage that I’ve transcended all my apprehensions and negative feelings around my sons’ autism, and have adapted in mindset and application to being fully in tune with it, and viewing it as a vocation more than a hindrance. In ways, many will not understand I see the strengths in my son’s autism where many would just see the weaknesses.
Unfortunately, yet understandably, a lot of parents can never accept their child being what they see as being afflicted with autism.
They are good people and love their children deeply, but are angry at what they see as befallen their child and the fact they find life so much more difficult raising that child.
Even as parent of an autistic child, understanding the nature of autism, its origins and what causes it, is even with today’s marvels in modern medicine, still baffling.
Even the experts will tell you they are nowhere near understanding the condition in its entirety.
Any of the approved treatments and therapies are very much trial and error, and progress is slow. Even the most meagre baby steps achieved are deemed major successes.
In Ireland, the state has failed the Autistic children when it comes to offering support and intervention for these kids and adults with the condition. Widespread cuts to special needs services and a total lack of innovation or drive to provide vital services has left many parents at their wits end.
In these parent’s frustration they want answers, why is their child this way? And is there a cure?
It is in this atmosphere and sensing the desperation and the potential for it to be exploited that the shady hucksters, quacks, pseudoscientists, gurus and false prophets crawl out of the woodwork.
They promise easy answers outside all realms of reason and medical officialdom. Yet still the struggling parents in their gullibility, blindly will try anything in the hope of some sort of miracle remedy, without thinking of the consequences.
It doesn’t help either that many high-profile celebrities and other influential figures are prominent critics of vaccinations or outright Anti-Vaxxers. Legendary actor Robert DeNiro recently tried to host Vaxxed at his world-renowned film Tribeca film festival, later pulling it after much protest to him for giving an audience and platform to such highly dangerous hogwash. Even maverick US president Donald Trump is an open anti-Vaxxer who met with Andrew Wakefield during his presidential campaign.
The lobby which constitutes the driving force of the Anti-Vaxx movement here in Ireland and in Britain, are a strange heady mix of organisations and groups that exist on the fringes of Irish society: various obscure fringe political groupings, the ‘alternative health’ industry, new age religions, high profile conspiracy theorists and wealthy benefactors sympathetic to the Anti-Vaxx crusade. A brief outline of who some of this lobby are include:
The Homeopathy Society - for those unaware of what homeopathy is, it’s a largely discredited form of alternative medicine that works on the premise of like cures like. It involves a microscopic sample of a substance being dropped into a Vat of water and then the water shaken thousands of times under the substance has dissipated leaving just water, which is then dripped onto a sugar capsule, essentially presenting these capsules as medicine when they are just water(sometimes with alcohol as an added ingredient).
The Church of Scientology - the much ridiculed and maligned UFO cult which is renowned for brainwashing its members, extorting their cash and making them literal slaves of the ‘church’ with its odd theology of cosmology/self-help practices. The ‘church’ regards all forms of psychiatry and drugs to be detrimental to all mankind, and members are prohibited from using any medicines even if they are desperately needed for conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes or heart conditions. Through use of various front groups, the ‘Church’ disseminates anti-medicine/anti-drug propaganda.
Direct Democracy/The Nation Citizens Movement/Various conspiracy theory advocates: Many if not all the most ardent conspiracy theorists and conspiracy theory outfits are firm promoters of the Anti-Vaxx movement. One of the more prominent of these outfits is the registered political party Direct Democracy/The National Citizens movement. Ideologically right wing and populist, they are a party entrenched in conspiracy theory politics, who are strongly connected with the pseudo legal concept and recent US import ‘Freeman on the land’. They point to the HPV scandal in which it is alleged 350 teen girls suffered negative effects and lifelong illnesses after being vaccinated with the HPV vaccine Gardasil. Although proof that these girls acquired their illness from Gardasil is widely disputed by medical professionals and most sections of the media.
Since the advent of the water protests, conspiracy theory ideas have become very prominent in anti-establishment activism. Many sections of the public disenchanted with all things political, which they conflate with government, embraced the simplistic rhetoric DDI was sprouting although they still performed poorly at the ballot box and have since disappeared into obscurity. Although its core figures are still Anti-Vaxx promoters.
Ask yourself, with such elements bolstering the position of the Anti-Vaxxer movement, providing it funding and resources, would you gamble your child’s health on the opinions of such a disparate collection of misanthropes?
These entities have a very clear agenda in promoting the anti-vaccination position. As the parents that decide to not inoculate their kids from potentially lethal diseases, the Homeopaths will be waiting in the wings to sell their snake oil. The Scientologists can offer courses and their own perverted forms of counselling to combat any ‘spiritual’ problems that arise. And Direct Democracy can gain at the ballot box (or so they thought), putting it up the government lackeys of big pharma.
From browsing through various internet forums and secret groups on Facebook, some of what I discovered about what goes on within the Anti-Vaxxer network well and truly shook me to my very core. The more hard-line parents were prepared to subject their children to highly hazardous and potentially fatal pseudoscientific experiments which there seems to be no credible scientific they work!
One method discussed was ‘Chelation therapy’, a process in which highly toxic chemicals are injected into a child (usually without the child’s consent it would seem) which allegedly expels heavy metals from a child’s body, heavy metals that apparently originate from vaccines. Again, there is no evidence supportive of this ‘cure’ and it is not practiced by any accredited medical professionals nor has it any endorsement from any scientific sources.
More disturbing was the terrifying usage of what’s known as ‘bleaching’, were a child is given a dose of diluted industrial bleach (the quacks refer to it as ‘miracle mineral solution’) in the form of an enema, the idea being this ‘cure’ purges the body of toxins that are claimed cause autism. It goes without saying this barbaric practice enjoys no support from any scientific source and could be deemed child abuse.
It is particularly disturbing to see parents post pictures of the contents of toilet bowls after children have defecated, with blood and bits of stomach lining on display and the parent being assured ‘this is all natural’, encouraged to continue the bogus treatment by idiots.
I decided I needed to protest this harmful Vaxxed nonsense being given a platform in my hometown, so I sought out others who shared my concerns.
This sort of activism was not my forte. I’m somewhat a veteran of protesting but never on the basis of pursuing an issue such as this, which I realise I should have acted on sooner as it is a matter close to my heart.
I encountered in my search for information on the proposed event, a woman named Fiona O’Leary of Cork. Fiona is a devoted mother to her children, two of whom are autistic. She herself has Asperger’s, so is deeply embedded and passionate in the campaign for the rights for Autistic people.
The Autistic Rights Movement is still in its infancy but is growing, promoting the ideal of neurodiversity that those with neurological conditions should be treated as equal and respected the same as any other human being; that Autism does need to be (or can be) cured, as the movement believe autism to be an authentic form of human diversity, self-expression, and being; that autistic people are not broken individuals or have no value. The movement takes umbrage with the Anti-Vaxx term for Autistic children, the inflammatory insensitive label ‘the vaccine injured.’
Fiona can come across at times as uncompromising and dogged in her endeavours, not afraid to be deemed unpopular or criticised for calling out charismatic con artists and charlatans, but for her it all comes down to her defending Autistic people from harm and discrimination. She is a frequent contributor to various media outlets and newspapers, exposing harming quackery and calling for legislation to protect Autistic children from harmful pseudoscientific bogus therapies.
She has even spoke in front of the EU parliament in Brussels at its Evidence Matters event, to warn of the dangers of the anti-vaccination cult and unregulated, unproven and dangerous bogus Autism 'treatments'.
It was through Fiona I discovered the event was happening, but despite our efforts to ascertain the location, the members of the Anti-Vaxx groups on Facebook - which I had sneakily joined - and even those on the Vaxxed Ireland page were remaining tight lipped, stating the venue would only be divulged two hours prior to the event itself. All we had to go on was that it was being held in the City Centre.
We decided hook or by crook, that we would protest the event, and we did!
In the run, up to the event we were worried the location would remain a secret. Even Corrs superstar and well known eccentric ultra-conspiracy theorist Jim Corr goaded Fiona online in her efforts to protest event, even threatening legal action for calling out his support of the harmful alternative medicine he openly endorses, and to warn us to stay away from him if he decided to attend the screening.
The day came and protestors from not just across Ireland but also England, made their way to Dublin City Centre to await a leak on where VAXXED was being screened. We got lucky, an hour prior to the event being held, word had come that the Tivoli Theatre on Francis Street was hosting the controversial event.
I was surprised at the Tivoli giving this film a platform, as it a highly respected establishment with a rich history, with many a historical play performed there by the arts community over the years. In my younger years, I used to attend raves held there. Recently is has fallen on tough times, so in pursuit of handy cash, it was prepared to host the Vaaxed crowd. An act I reckon the arts council would frown upon.
We made our way hurriedly to Francis Street. As I was parking my car and walking up the street to join the rest at the Tivoli’s entrance. Two men followed me crossing the road with Hi-Tech cameras pointed at my face, silently with smiles on their faces. They were dressed like surfers, with beach tans, Ray bans and baseball hats turned backwards, and had laid back American accents when they did speak.
This is reminiscent of the tactics Scientology employ in badgering critics and opponents. They realised they weren’t getting much joy from me, so they proceeded to walk up the street ahead of me to annoy the other protesters.
The protesters were made up of a collection of autistic adults representative of the autistic rights community, sceptics, science enthusiasts and anti-cult activists. Present was well known anti-Scientology spokesman Pete Griffiths, at one time himself a dedicated Scientologist, now arguably its most vocal critic in Ireland.
Also present were Alex and Emma, two women who had made their way over from England for protesting. Emma is a somewhat internet vigilante. seasoned in exposing con artists and proponents of some of the harmful ‘treatments’ mentioned above. She is a thorn in the side of the Homeopaths, cranks and quacks peddling bogus remedies as Autism cures. She is also an author about understanding autism, as someone herself with Asperger’s.
We stood across the street with our signs and placards making our presence known after we were refused access to the building. Most of the protesters wore body cams, which was explained was just in case the VAXXED crew with the cameras or private security/private investigators were to use edited footage to discredit us. This was like no protest I’d ever been at before. Word was dripping out in bits and pieces of what was going on inside, by sceptics who gained entry.
A child was presented on stage as ‘vaccine free’ to rapturous applause, which conjured up images of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and his assertions of what the perfect Aryan child looks like. Parents were interviewed with their children, before the screening, in an interview setting. Attention was paid to the more obviously disabled children. The kids and some of them grown adults were presented as oddities, broken humans who could have been ‘normal’ had they not have been vaccinated.
The whole affair was perverse, along with irresponsibly advising people not vaccinate children. The children who did have autism it seemed were fair game to be discriminated and abused for the purposes of pushing their warped worldview.
As the first screening ended, aand the crowds left in drips and drabs to avoid our stares, we witnessed mothers with infant babies emerge through the doors to leave. An older woman angrily approached me, and shouted at me that I was a ‘paid plant’. Paid by who? asked I! ‘Government, Big Business’ she replied in a fit of pure anger. Little did she know in the past I have been a member of two Anti-Good Friday Agreement Republican groups, and while I’m independent of any political groups now and have a more open mind, I still would hold anti-establishment views: a long way off from being a ‘plant’.
An elderly lady, I proceeded to ask her did she remember when TB ravaged Dublin in the 1940’s and 1950s. She responded she did. So, I proceeded to ask her, if she wanted TB to make a comeback, as it surely will if we all stop vaccinating our kids. She waved me off to dismiss me and marched off down the street.
Anybody else leaving totally refused to engage with me, which I wished to do in a calm manner for a reasonable discussion. It was eyes straight ahead with the odd mention of ‘paid plant’ or ‘troll.’
Obviously the organisers were disseminating the notion we were all paid agents of pharmaceutical companies or some such garbage.
After Vaxxed was over and the doors locked we decided to depart after a successful protest.
As I was leaving it dawned on me where I was standing and the significance the area had to vaccination - in the heart of the South Inner City, where TB and Polio spread like wildfire and annihilated an entire generation of that community.
A trailblazing politician by the name of Doctor Noel Browne, one of the few gems to ever emerge from Leinster House, who in the face of opposition from the dominant Catholic Church, performed a feat of bravery in those days considering the power the church. Single handily introduced free vaccination schemes across the country, which meant that areas like the North and South Inner City saw drastic reductions in TB and Polio. In a brief time, thereafter, these diseases were virtually made extinct through the godsend of Vaccines.
Yet here I was standing on Francis Street in 2017 and a theatre full of people were ironically proposing an idea that would harken back the bad old days of TB and Polio: all because they read some diatribe on bloated nutcase Alex Jones Info wars or a YouTube video from crank extraordinaire David Icke or as Rationalwiki deems him, the ‘human singularity of insanity’.
Filling the pockets of homeopaths.
I realised when I got home how serious the topic of anti-vaccination is. The number of people alone in the Tivoli that day, should they not vaccinate their children, had the potential to endanger a future generation from catching diseases thought long dormant.
Anti-Vaxxers in a nutshell Kill!
As someone normally very questioning of everything, I’m yet to see any convincing evidence that MMR vaccines in any way can cause autism in young children, in fact evidence of any harm coming to children from vaccines is scant.
Perhaps the little pinch they get after the needle goes in and the obligatory crying after can be tough as a parent to watch, but sure they normally get a lolly pop afterwards and all is well.
‘Remember TB, Polio and Smallpox?’
‘Me neither, get your kids vaccination!’
That was the humorous slogan carried by someone protesting the screening of Vaxxed in Atlantic in the United States.
It needs to be drilled into anti-Vaxxers ad Nausum.