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Sisyphus in the City: A Review of The Advocates

Special To Topanga Journal

Years ago, we went to L.A.’s Skid Row to attend a rooftop screening of an old film that’d recently been discovered. It was being shown by some local historical society, the big point being that a few seconds showed the same area of L.A. we were sitting in, but nearly 100 years ago. We rode our bikes to get there, and, running late, we focused entirely on pedaling as quick as we could on the way in. By doing so, we avoided noticing the expanse of tents and refuse, the people lingering wherever they could. 

Rick Paulas

By Rick Paulas

But a friend took the bus to meet us, and by the time the film was over, that line had stopped running. This was before Lyft or Uber. And so, in the middle of some late Saturday night, we walked through Skid Row.

Nothing overtly memorable happened, but it’s a kind of journey you never forget. It was only a few blocks from the rest of downtown L.A.—the whole trip couldn’t have taken more than 15 minutes—but it felt like we had been transported to an entirely different country, time, or maybe universe. There were unique smells, garbage fire flickers, and chaotic arguments wafting into night. Residents were holding court inside or outside their tents, passing drugs or booze or food, or whatever else.

the whole trip couldn’t have taken more than 15 minutes—but it felt like we had been transported to an entirely different country, time, or maybe universe.” Rick Paulas

Despite the expensive high heels and tailored suits in the swanky bottle service nightclubs nearby, here was an entire community that had been abandoned. This was the last place these people had to go, and when they got there, they were forgotten. I never looked at the city the same way. 

Homelessness is one of the most pervasive signs of a system that’s fraying at the edges, and since our late-night walk through Skid Row years ago, it’s only gotten worse in America. As one commenter in Rémi Kessler’s new film The Advocates points out, while encampments used to be relegated to the various city Skid Rows throughout the country, they’ve now sprawled well beyond that. Tents are pitched along highways, nestled under overpasses. They populate city parks, while others place cardboard boxes in storefront alcoves. You’d be astounded at the number of folks who spend their nights in their cars. 

While development quickens and high-rises continue to be built, what’s missing in our current urban mindset is building housing for people who need it. There’s already plenty for people who don’t, but have the money to invest; this is how you end up with so many empty, as one commenter put it, “safety deposit boxes in the sky.” But what’s also missing to get there—and this is at the core of Kessler’s film—is the idea that secondary solutions to homelessness (drug rehabilitation, treatment for mental health issues, a good paying job) are not as important as literally making houses.

During my work as a journalist in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, I’ve interviewed countless of homeless folks for a variety of reasons, and whenever I ask them what they need to get off the streets, the one thing they mention is: An indoor place to go. While there are people on the streets with mental health issues, for many, problems like drug abuse or violent mood swings are not the reasons for why they’re on the street, but problems that occurred after they got there. 

Consider: What would it be like to sleep on a city street, with traffic blaring by, unprotected from the elements, unsafe from passersby? Would you feel a little bit groggy every day? Maybe not in peak shape to attend a job interview? Or—and here is the dark secret of homelessness in America—maybe not rested enough to keep the job you have? And then, if someone has a drug that’s take the edge off for a few moments, would you refuse it? 

Kessler’s film begins with the tale of Yolanda and Ruben, a brother-and-sister pair who once had indoor lives. They live in a few cars that double as places to store their possessions, but the cars don’t run, and due to parking restrictions, every week they have to push them across the street to avoid a ticket. Imagine the toll that takes on a life, and how those parking tickets could add up if, one day, you’re not well enough to heft the heavy automobile across the street. Try being in a kind mood, or mentally focused enough to lift yourself up by your own bootstraps, with that lifestyle.

As an expert says toward the end of the film, the solution to homelessness is very straightforward: Give people homes. After seeing The Advocates, you’ll see why.


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Genetically Modified Children: Monsanto, Bayer and Tobacco

Special To Topanga Journal

The most striking imagery in the documentary Genetically Modified Children, by filmmakers Juliette Igier and Stephanie Lebrun, is the children suffering from incurable diseases purported to be from GMOs. This is by design, since it pulls on the emotional strings of anyone viewing. Yet, the heart of the film is something any of us can relate to: economic desperation.

Rick Paulas

By Rick Paulas

The film opens with the story of Ricardo Rivera, regional head of an electrical company in Argentina. He’s noticed that many of the farmers on his route can’t pay their bills, and discovers that it’s because they have sick children at home to care for. “We are all contaminated,” Rivera says, talking about the pesticides that have been used for decades in the region’s tobacco fields.

“We are all contaminated,” Rivera says, talking about the pesticides that have been used for decades in the region’s tobacco fields.

Lucas Texeira in the film Genetically Modified Children

While the story of the tobacco farmer children is the core of the documentary, to me, the most striking moment was that felt by a fully-grown, healthy tobacco farmer.

Midway through, the filmmakers introduce us to a cooperative where farmers sell their annual crop. There, each tobacco bale is evaluated by the color of its leaves, its size, and its texture. But as the norms of what tobacco is considered “the best” have changed over the years, so have the payments. “Now, only the use of chemical products insure good results,” says the narrator.

One farmer has brought his year’s haul in for sale, but his crop wasn’t grown using the same pesticides that the larger farms around use. In comparison, it looks dark and flimsy. Thirty seconds of evaluation later, the farmer finds out how much his year of labor is worth. He looks at his receipt, and walks away disheartened. “He has just earned $1,000 Euros for a year’s work,” explains the narrator.

The farmer shakes his head and gets into his truck, nothing left to do.

This scene is at the core of why the argument around GMOs has to change.

GMOs are a tough conversation for the liberal set. On the one hand, claims of rigorous scientific testing, stating that GMOs are safe; according to the New York Times, “about 90 percent of scientists believe G.M.O.s are safe,” in addition to endorsements by “the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the World Health Organization.” For a mindset that prides itself in Science with a capital S—particularly now, as fact has also become a political battleground, most dumbly exemplified in the climate change conversation—it makes sense that many liberals are not only fine with GMOs, but get downright angry if you suggest otherwise.

Where this sentiment gets sticky is with the rise of corporate conglomerates like Monsanto and Bayer. Due to the strength of current intellectual property laws, GMO-producing multinational corporations—the so-called “Big 6” are the aforementioned two, plus BASF, Dupont, Dow Chemical Company, and Syngenta—have been allowed to dictate the lives of the world’s farmers. Frankly, that’s what their products are intended to do.

Simply examine the mechanisms of Monsanto’s Roundup brand. In 1970, a chemist discovered glyphosate, a herbicide that kills weeds, but also kills the crops around them. You can see how this would be problematic to cash crop farmers. But, in 1996, that all changed. Monsanto announced its first line of Roundup Ready products, genetically engineered to resist glyphosate. Suddenly, farmers not only had an herbicide to kill weeds, but plants that wouldn’t be killed by the herbicide. Perfect corporate synergy. Since, Monsanto and friends have developed an army of seeds and plants that work in the same way, creating a vertical monopoly that forces farmers to buy both the herbicides and the seeds, or else.

Leaving aside the potential health impacts of such seed monoculture, consider the implications of these products. As time’s ticking clock marches forever forward, and capitalism’s innovation factory searches for more, better, stronger versions of perfectly fine methods from the past, so does the necessity to utilize such innovations to stay one step ahead of the competition. In the capitalistic race to the bottom, farmers have no choice but to use the herbicides, and then also the seeds that are resistant to them, or risk financial ruin.

This decision, despite the World Health Organization announcing that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015. This decision, despite their children living painful, short lives while suffering from harrowing, incurable diseases. If farmers are financially dependent on GMO crops to sustain themselves, they’ll continue taking the risk. What other choice do they have?

The film ends with two lines spoken by the narrator: “According to the World Health Organization, 3 million people are poisoned by pesticides every year. Agri-chemicals are worth $40 billion dollars a year to the multinationals that produce them.”

It’s a cost-benefit analysis made between people and corporations. And as long as anti-GMO liberals continue to focus on the scientific and emotional arguments—as opposed to the one provided by examine the pure economic incentive that the farmers are reliant on—they’ll forever be stuck on the sidelines, watching the world poison itself for the benefit of the few CEOs.


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Trumping Democracy: Buying And Selling Your Profile

Special To Topanga Journal

Trump was elected because of racist backlash to Obama’s presidency. Trump was elected because of sexist backlash to Hillary’s candidacy. Or because of Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders siphoning leftist voters. Or because of non-voters. Or the media. Or Russia. Or because your dumbass Aunt won’t stop watching Fox News.

When an election with over 235 million eligible voters is determined by the slim margin of 80,000 cast over three states, the reason can be almost anything. In Thomas Huchon’s documentary Trumping Democracy, the reason is fake news and Facebook.

Rick Paulas

By Rick Paulas

“What if the election of the 45th President of the United States was not a fair fight?” asks Huchon in the opening, a suggestive question that will no doubt get its progressively-minded audience nodding in agreement. The presidency, after all, was stolen. That’s the only logical consideration one can have after every political analyst claiming a Hillary landslide, that there was no way the most unlikeable candidate could defeat “the most experienced candidate in history.” Something underhanded must have happened for this event to occur.


It’s this presentation of Trump as an anomaly in American political history where the documentary begins, and where it’s at its weakest.


George W. Bush bumbled his way into a million dead Iraqis, Bill Clinton’s legacy is stained dresses and packed prisons, and Ronald Reagan is nothing if not a more-polished precursor to Trump. Even Huchon’s argument that mainstream media was duped by fake news—highlighted by an interview with The Atlantic’s Rosie Gray—fails to mention the growing distrust Americans have felt toward mainstream publications since they trumpeted the White House WMD lie in the lead up to the Iraq War. It’s as if eight years of No Drama Obama erased every mishap that’d gone before.


This narrow scope in the service of the doc’s thesis is a shame, because the film gets intriguing in its second half, as it details with how insidious the world of data collection has become. Trumping Democracy is at its best when it breaks down the operations of Cambridge Analytica. This is a data firm that buys information from credit card companies, banks, and social media giants like Google, Twitter, and Facebook to develop—and then sell—consumer profiles for some 230 million American adults.


“It’s legal, but nobody brags about it,” ominously narrates Huchon.


While it’s the sort of targeted marketing that’s been the norm since businesses have fought for consumer dollars, it’s now been amplified to its logical extreme as technology has crept into every aspect of our lives. The difference that emerged in 2016 was two-fold: Data collection and algorithm processing has been perfected to the point where it can predict user behavior better than someone’s spouse—an interview with Stanford psychometric professor Michal Kosinski is as riveting as it is harrowing—and that, for the first time in America, that technology was able to be used in a general election.


But it’s here, again, that Huchon’s doc swerves back into shrug territory.


We’ve long known that Facebook and Google collect, then sell, our data. We’ve also known that businesses target persuasive ads at us. For Huchon’s thesis of fake news being responsible for Trump to work, he needs the hands of an illegitimate outside actor at the controls. For many, that has been Putin and Russia. But for Huchon, it’s Robert Mercer, billionaire computer scientist, and one of the principal funders of both Brexit and Trump’s campaign.


Painted by Huchon, Mercer is an odd bird with a penchant for gun-collecting and a hatred of the media spotlight. He’s the 21st century version of Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood, a staunch capitalist who wants enough money to get away from everyone else, then some more money too. Plainview gets that money through oil, Mercer through tech.

It’s legal, but nobody brags about it,” ominously narrates Huchon. 

While Mercer’s biography intrigues, it never quite pinpoints why this is much different from any big money spender who foot the bill for the Clinton campaign. To be fair, Huchon briefly tabs at the ghastly 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United as to why Mercer has been allowed such purchase power, but quickly moves past this. This narrow lens highlights the lingering ideological problems left by Trumping Democracy.

Mercer backed Brexit and Trump, okay, but why? Why have Facebook, Twitter, and Google been allowed to collect and sell user data? Why do shabbily-dressed freelance writers spend their time writing “fake news” posts? Why is the business model of Cambridge America allowed to exist? And why, after claims of being the most tech savvy and data driven campaign in history, was the Clinton campaign able to be beaten by a bumbling reality TV show host, a billionaire recluse, and Facebook likes?

This is the danger when you focus on the 80,000 votes, not the 62.9 million votes before. Or the 2016 election, without considering the campaigns, elections, and policies that came before. If you think this single presidency was stolen, you don’t see that the rules of the game were changed a long time ago.

Trumping Democracy Film

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Controversial Dr. Andrew Wakefield In The Pathological Optimist

by Kriss Perras


Let’s begin this discussion by saying I’m not a physician. I’m a publisher, writer, photographer, artist, and musician. What I can do here is facilitate a discussion on vaccines by bringing you, the reader, both sides of the story. So let us begin.

Dr. Andrew Wakefield. That name conjures up admiration in some and anger in others. Then there are other titans on the vaccine subject that have diametrically opposing views to Dr. Wakefield, such as California Senator Richard Pan (District 6). Add to this a British journalist named Brian Deer who accused Dr. Wakefield of fraud and dishonesty and a British journal, titled The Lancet, that first published then retracted Dr. Wakefield’s paper that suggested a link between vaccines and autism. This leads to a high profile court case in the U.K. that ultimately lands Dr. Wakefield without a medical license. Now we have the makings of a controversy. Still add to this discussion the media frenzy that swirls around these figures, and the discussion reaches a boiling point.

This is how director Miranda Bailey came to make the documentary The Pathological Optimist. She first approached Dr. Wakefield about the idea, and he said no. She instead continued with her idea and started filming figures around Dr. Wakefield. Eventually she wore him down, and he agreed to make the film. A five year undertaking, Bailey followed Dr. Wakefield around during everyday life and the course of this vaccine battle with the press, Brian Deer, The Lancet, the U.K. government and a defamation case in a Texas court as his controversial views on vaccines were publicly debated as either fact or fiction. 

Here’s the backbone of the discussion on Dr. Wakefield’s vaccine story, for the uninitiated. He published a paper in The Lancet in the 1990’s. In that paper he suggested a link between vaccines and autism. This sparked a massive public debate and outcry on both sides, pro and con, and the result was controversy, court cases and accusations. 

In Bailey’s documentary, much of what we learn is through the lens of the news media, which may not always be accurate. The narrative is told through a series of flashbacks. We move from the present tense to a flashback then back to the present tense as the story delves deeper and deeper into Dr. Wakefield’s claims and decisions, the decisions that surround him and the resulting media flurry, or crickets because of very little reporting on major points in the story. Point in case, very few corporate media outlets reported on John Walker Smith’s exoneration at the time. Now you might say who the hell is Walker Smith? Walker Smith was a doctor found guilty in the U.K. of serious professional misconduct over the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) controversy who won his High Court appeal in that country. Walker Smith had previously completed research with Dr. Wakefield. They had concluded there was a link between autism and the combined MMR vaccine. This is the paper that was published in The Lancet. 

Now that the background is set, let’s move forward with the discussion with the main players of this film, and the vaccine debate in general.

Topanga Journal conducted a Q&A with the director and star of the film The Pathological Optimist at the Malibu premiere of this film prior to the film’s screening that day. The director, Bailey, was candid and honest, funny and happy her five year trek was finally coming to screen. Dr. Wakefield was not what the media has portrayed him to be. He was candid and genuine. Again, this article is not about this journalist taking anyone’s side or taking a stand on vaccines. It merely presents both sides of the story to you the reader. It’s also a microcosm of the debate within Bailey’s documentary.



TJ: What made you make this film? It’s a very controversial subject?

BAILEY: I have to say when I started, I don’t think it was as controversial as it is now.

TJ: Oh really, even despite the fact Dr. Wakefield had his licensed removed?

BAILEY: I had just started right around then. I did a movie called Greenlit first. It was a documentary about the greening of the film business, and kind of the inherent hypocrisy within that. It was similar in the sense of that it didn’t come out with Hollywood is good, or Hollywood is bad, or environmental stuff is the best. It really kind of shows a balance. It kind of just shows what’s happening out there. My producing partner on my doc who is also the cinematographer, we were just exploring different ideas for our next film. Right around that time was when there was like whisperings in the United States of this doctor who had lost his license in the U.K. and was now living in the United States. We heard about this event that had all these speakers that was for a personal rights rally. We weren’t really sure what that was. But there was a bunch of different speakers there. There was like 12. And Andy [Dr. Wakefield] was the headliner. And we didn’t want to interview Andy because there was a lot of controversy around him. But we wanted to interview all these other people. There was like scientists to historians to lawyers. One of my friends who is a big documentary filmmaker said the real story is that guy, Andy. I thought it would be quite interesting to go in and see what it was all about. There was this whole MMR scandal that was written up in the Sunday Times with Deer. We just started looking into that. Ideally, we wanted to interview and explore stories that were antagonistic of Andy as well. But they didn’t really want to talk to us. So you kind of have to decide what you get access to. Obviously the movie has shifted many different times. By the time Andy actually allowed us access, it was shortly after the British medical journal came out. And shortly after him giving us access, he started to pursue a defamation case. Structurally the film kind of follows that and then goes back in time to how he got there, exploring all the allegations of the MMR scandal.

TJ: Is it what you’d thought it would be in the beginning?

BAILEY: What do you mean, the movie?

TJ: The subject matter in general. When you started out, you had a certain idea.

BAILEY: No I didn’t have an idea. I really didn’t know. Same thing happened with the documentary Greenlit. I wasn’t sure. I thought that was going to be like video extras. I didn’t realize there would be a whole story there. Not until I really got to meet his family and his wife and his kids and kind of be in there, and really become this very interesting inside look at this man we hear so much about. Obviously throughout the time I was filming, we just kept hearing more and more about him. It was quite interesting to see what we were being told about him, and also what I was witnessing on the other side. I thought it would be a unique film to be inside that world we hear so much about.

TJ: What do you think so far what’s been in print from the New York premiere? The reviews and the different things that have been said? Some are quite negative.

BAILEY: The reviews are positive about the film but negative about Andy. I don’t think anyone expected that to be different. I think we all knew the reviews of Andy would be negative. But we had a chance of having the film be reviewed positively, because it’s quite an exciting film. It’s engaging. Most documentaries are incredibly boring. This is not. It’s clear. It points out information. It has a very clear timeline. It’s emotional. You get attached to the characters. In terms of it as a film, I think it has been very positively reviewed. Him releasing Vaxxed was a big factor in how people are viewing this movie in terms of they probably assume that he had something to do with this movie. But he doesn’t. He’s only a subject. And his family is only a subject. He benefits financially not one penny from this movie. But neither will we, because it’s a documentary. And documentaries don’t make money.

TJ: Although some do.

BAILEY: Well, I mean maybe. I don’t know.

TJ: If you’re Bowling For Columbine, it makes money. 

BAILEY: I’ve made a couple documentaries. It’s always just kind of a labor of love. It was a challenging narrative to follow. It is unfortunate that people aren’t willing to look inside the story of the man, whether they like the man or not. I think it’s quite good. I think the thing that has been really fascinating about this was my intention, and my editor and other producer’s intention, being able to kind of make a movie where people could see different things in it. We go back to that style of filmmaking where the audience is the one who really gets to discover what they see as opposed to a lot of documentaries nowadays are like you must think this and this is bad or this is good and think this way. We didn’t want to do that. We really wanted to do a character study, and allow the audience to make their own decisions. It’s fascinating because one of my best friends is a nurse in New York. She came and saw it with one of my other friends who is an artist in San Francisco. The both loved the movie. They both had completely opposite views of the movie. The nurse felt like she was watching someone who was taking advantage of parents and spreading misinformation about vaccines. The artist from San Francisco felt that it was clearly about a man who is trying to fight for his name who has had this incorrect vendetta against him. It’s fascinating that you can see both of those things within the movie and appreciate the film. I hope all of his supporters and all of his dissenters and people who have never heard of him before go. It’s a Rorschach test of our time with movies right now.



TJ: Have vaccines changed since the time I was vaccinated as a child? I was born in 1966.

DR. WAKEFIELD: Dramatically yes.

TJ: How so? 

DR. WAKEFIELD: They’ve gone up in number, the sheer number that children receive. I think in your age group you probably would have gotten four or five vaccines. You would have gotten MMR. You would have gotten DPT and maybe the polio vaccine. Now kids get 72 shots before they go to high school. So there are many more on the schedule for increasingly minor diseases. Chicken pox. I mean chicken pox was a rite of passage. Now it’s become a major killer that needs to be vaccinated against. And they’ve accelerated the program. Now they’re giving more and more vaccines without any safety studies. Children are being given 9, 10, 11, 15 vaccines on the same day in the absence of any safety studies. It’s just not a good idea. In fact, it’s unacceptable. If you were doing that with standard drugs, you wouldn’t get away with it. You’d be sued, sued for medical negligence. Doctors are getting away with it because they’re vaccines.

TJ: Is there a link between vaccines and autism. If so, how do we know this? If not, how do we know not?

DR. WAKEFIELD: What I’m going to give you is my opinion. Okay? And my opinion is what it is worth. Do I believe after 25 years of investigating this that there is a link between vaccines and autism? Absolutely. I believe the parents are absolutely right. They were not anti-vaccine. They took their children to be vaccinated. And what they’re reporting is what happened to their children. I think now we’ve got a lot of evidence, a great deal of published evidence showing there is a link between vaccines and a whole slew of neuro-developmental disorders including autism. And the latest study draws a comparison of the health outcomes in fully vaccinated versus completely un-vaccinated children, which is the true baseline study for safety. And the rate of autism is very much higher in the vaccinated children as was ADD, ADHD and a whole range of allergic diseases. So children who are fully vaccinated are across the board much more unhealthy than children who are not.

TJ: Why are vaccines not classified as a pharmaceutical drug?

DR. WAKEFIELD: An extremely good question. I do not know. They’re classified as biologics, which means they get away with a whole lot of safety testing that would otherwise apply to drugs, including the requirement for double blind placebo control trials which are the essential baseline ethics assessment of safety. It’s remarkable that they’re allowed to do that. Of course there’s no liability for the damage done, unlike drugs. So the pharmaceutical industry, if they made cars, could make cars without brakes, people would die, and they still wouldn’t be liable. And this is perverse. And it’s completely wrong, because if there are no checks and balances, why would you do safety studies? It would cost you a lot of money. They may find something you don’t want to find. It may mean your vaccine won’t get onto the market. So you don’t do them. And that’s exactly what’s happened.



Topanga Journal posed these same three questions we asked Dr. Wakefield to Senator Pan, who is also a pediatrician. Senator Pan is known for his work on legislative mandatory vaccines. Senator Pan provided a statement instead of answering the same three questions. We pressed the Senator to answer the same three questions, but the Senator did not reply in time to go to print.

The following is the statement in full provided by Senator Pan to this magazine regarding Dr. Wakefield.

“His research retracted for fraud and his medical license revoked for unethical behavior by his home country, Andrew Wakefield moved to America to profit from his deceit by attacking public confidence in vaccines.  Every major medical, public health, and scientific organization, including autism science organizations, around the world agrees that vaccines do not cause autism.  Giving Wakefield a platform to spread his fraud and deceit harms Americans and injures our children when, just this year alone, Wakefield’s lies caused a measles outbreak in Minnesota that sickened 79 Americans, hospitalized 22, and cost taxpayers over $1.3 million to contain.”


Topanga Journal reached out to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We posed the same three questions to their office. The following are statements from Andrea Fischer, Press Officer at the FDA.



TJ: Have vaccines been changed since the days when I was vaccinated as a child? (I was born in 1966)

FISCHER: Infectious diseases caused by viruses present significant public health challenges.  Improvements in identifying the etiology of viral infections and the development of vaccines has contributed to the prevention of countless cases of disease – and saved millions of lives. Vaccines have been proven, over decades, to be one of the safest and most powerful disease prevention tools available – and their importance is still growing.

Vaccine technology has evolved from growing and producing pathogens on a large scale in cell culture to defining and selecting protective antigens. Many vaccines developed today use technologies based on a better understanding of immune responses, the ability to generate the antigen on a mass scale, and an increased knowledge of host-pathogen interactions.

There are many types of vaccines categorized by the antigen used in their preparation. Their formulations affect how they are used, how they are stored, and how they are administered. Types of FDA approved vaccines include: live attenuated (LAV), inactivated (killed antigen), subunit (purified antigen), toxoid (inactivated toxins), polysaccharides and conjugates.

We have witnessed great discoveries in the field of vaccine development. For example, the first recombinant DNA vaccine was licensed by FDA in 1986.  In 2006 FDA licensed the first vaccine for the prevention of certain cancers caused by the human papillomavirus, and a vaccine for the prevention of shingles.  More recently FDA licensed vaccines to prevent invasive disease caused by Neisseria meningitis serogroup B, the first adjuvanted seasonal influenza vaccine, quadrivalent seasonal influenza vaccines, and a vaccine for the prevention of cholera.Additionally, FDA is working to help facilitate the development and availability of vaccines for the prevention of emerging infectious pathogens such as the Ebola and Zika viruses.

A priority for FDA is facilitating the development of safe and effective vaccines for infectious diseases that address important health concerns and would benefit public health. It is critical that we continue to conduct mission related research pertinent to the development, manufacture, and testing of vaccines and related products, including those for pandemic influenza vaccines and those prepared by genetic engineering and synthetic procedures, to support the regulatory process, and to assist in establishing methodologies and standards to ensure the continued safety, purity, potency and effectiveness of vaccines and related products. You may want to contact the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to obtain additional information about the evolution of vaccine development.

TJ: Is there a link between vaccines and autism? If so, how do we know this? Or know there’s not?

FISCHER: No, the scientific evidence does not support a link between vaccination and autism or other developmental disorders. Studies have been conducted by a number of organizations, including the World Health 

Organization, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Pediatrics and all have failed to show any support for a causal relationship between vaccination and autism. Further information on this research can be found on the CDC website at:

TJ: Why aren’t vaccines classified as a pharmaceutical drug?

FISCHER: Vaccines are in fact regulated as biological products under the authority of 

Section 351 of the Public Health Service Act; and under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, as drugs.


Topanga Journal posed the same three questions to all the Q&A participants in something of a sociological experiment, to see the different outcomes and common ground in the vaccine debate. It was interesting to see where everyone agreed, which turned out to be a very narrow space, and how wide the gap in the debate actually is.



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