Vaccination –
Just a Prick of a Needle?

(ARTE, 27 Nov. 2007, 21:40 p.m.)
Rerun: PHOENIX, 15 Aug. 2008, 10:40 p.m.
Length: 60 minutes
A film by Valentin Thurn and Sabine Goette

The discovery of vaccines is one of medicine’s great success stories. Epidemics such as smallpox and polio, which had terrified and horrified mankind for ages, were able to be vanquished thanks to vaccinations. And yet, the victories achieved during the history of medicine were rarely won without undesired side effects or even casualties. Even though vaccinations are much, much safer than they were as recently as 20 years ago, the possibility of harmful damage due to vaccinations still exists. On the other hand, experts assess the risks of infectious diseases that can be prevented through vaccinations as a great deal higher. The fatal consequences of measles are merely one example. But even so, they’re still there: Damaging after-effects that can lead to disability or even death.
Film-makers Valentin Thurn and Sabine Goette investigate the bright and the shady sides of vaccinations. A journey back into the history of immunization paves the way to the fates of those affected, both long ago and today, as well as to the current controversial debates that revolve around immunizing today.
Families from Germany and France give accounts of both sides of this ‘medallion of success’: What can happen if inoculation is not performed, and how even one vaccination can change life dramatically. Micha, 6 years old, is doomed to die because he was infected with measles at a pediatrician’s practice at the age of 5 months. It took years for the disease to erupt: SSPE, a chronic inflammation of the brain and a consequence of measles that leads to certain death. Little Joel has been affected, too. He became ill during the largest epidemic of measles Germany has ever known. It broke out in Duisburg in 2006. He died while the film was still being shot. In contrast, Madame Zanakolona from Paris had to fight for years until a court finally ruled that the brain damage her son suffered following inoculation against whooping cough had a direct correlation. Today he is 15. That vaccine has long since been taken off the market, but new vaccinations bearing potential risks are pressing their way to the fore. At any rate, the Schomaker family is convinced that the 6-way vaccine which was launched 6 years ago caused their son’s death.
Over the last few years Professor Randolph Penning, a state medical examiner, has performed autopsies on several children following the 6-way vaccination. His findings: conspicuous and alarming cerebral swelling. A former member of staff at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institute and an ‘insider’ in the field, Dr Klaus Hartmann, also takes an extremely critical stance towards these new compound vaccines. Are they the cause of these children’s deaths? No one has been able to prove it yet, but the controversy is in full sway. How frank does reporting on possible damaging after-effects has to be without fanning the flames of anxiety in parents and, as a result, producing low vaccination rates and a return of epidemics?
Most infectious diseases have lost the threat they once posed, not least due to the success vaccinations have had. To many people, that’s why vaccinations no longer seem to be very important at all. In stark contrast, some vaccinations would be welcomed by many others all over the globe: for example the new vaccine against tuberculosis being developed at the Max-Planck-Institute in Berlin. Millions of people are affected by TB worldwide. Resistant pathogens are becoming more and more widespread. Relief could be attained through a vaccination. That’s what the scientists hope, because TB continues to gain ground.

Video (approx. 6 min.) German

Screenplay and Director: Valentin Thurn and Sabine Goette
Camera: Hans Hausmann, Rainer Speidel
Sound: Leif Hanisch, Harald Reichmann
Editor: Rainer Speidel
Production: Heike Kunze / telekult GmbH
Executive Producer: Susanne Mertens
A production o telekult Film- und Medienproduktion GmbH
commissioned by ZDF in co-operation with ARTE