A documentary about vaccination produced two years ago by the students at Carlsbad High School is finally released to coincide with National Immunization Awareness Month. The film, “Invisible Threat,” about the “the science of disease and the risks facing a society that is under-vaccinated” faced backlash from the anti-vaccination movement from the start when UT San Diego first reported about making of the documentary.
The students were baffled by the attacks from the anti-vaccination community who accused the school of receiving funding from pharmaceutical companies to make what the group called a propaganda film.
“We’re an extracurricular film club,” Mark Huckaby, a graduating senior who narrated the film, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s just not cool.”
The idea for the film came from the San Diego Rotary Club, the main financial sponsor of CHSTVfilms, the award-winning film and broadcast journalism extracurricular club.
The service organization has been working to the improve the vaccination rate in San Diego County for the past 20 years. The group has seen immunization exemption rates rose from 1.09 percent 15 years ago to 4.49 percent last school year.
So far this year, the number of whooping cough cases have reached epidemic proportion and public health officials say unvaccinated children are partly to blame. San Diego County typically has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.
Students, however, bristled at the idea of doing a pro-vaccination film.
“We said, if we do this, we have to do this on our terms,” Bradley Streicher, one of the students told the LA Times. “We wanted to explore this from both sides.”
In making the documentary, the students read studies, talked to public health officials and parents who are against vaccination as well as a holistic practitioner who treats unvaccinated children. In the end, some who had initially believed that vaccination causes autism changed their minds.
“It was all social controversy. There was no science controversy,” Allison DeGour, an incoming senior, told the Times.
The 40-minute film was completed in 2013 and shown to a few selected audiences is strongly pro-vaccine.
Public health officials praised the documentary, saying it is one of the best films on the subject of vaccination.
“It is a wonderful movie,” Dr. Trish Perl, an infectious-disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Medicine told the Times. “I would have loved it to be shown in my children’s school.”
The students said they were saddened by the strong reaction they got from the film. In all, 16 students worked on the documentary — writing, shooting, editing and appearing in the fim.
“We really took pride in the work we did as students,” Streicher told the Times. “It’s sad to see that people would call it into question.”
Because of the strong criticism, many at Carlsbad High School still have not seen the documentary. In June, the school’s Parent-Teacher Student Association had to cancel a planned screening for fear that anti-vaccination activists would show up and protest, as they had at a previous screening.
The group did not want to expose the students who worked on the film to a situation “where people could get on campus and harass them.”
At the urging of students and community members, the film’s producer Lisa Posard, whose daughter wrote the script, finally agreed to release the documentary on the Internet on Aug. 1, to coincide with National Immunization Awareness Month.
The documentary is available to rent at chstvfilms.org with proceeds going to support CHSTVfilms. The club had previously produced two highly regarded documentaries about the Holocaust and food insecurity in affluent communities.