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‘Shot in the Arm’ Review: A Pointed Documentary About the Anti-Vax Movement



Although it doesn’t break any new ground, Shot in the Arm — a documentary that had its world premiere recently in Palm Springs — tackles a pertinent topic about resistance to vaccines and the craziness that continues to swirl around this issue. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Scott Hamilton Kennedy (The Garden, Food Evolution) and prominent scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson collaborated on the illuminating and sometimes depressing chronicle of anti-vax vehemence that began before COVID but took on deadlier implications during the pandemic.

Kennedy actually began working on the film in 2019, during a surprising uptick in cases of measles around the world. He found that the causes could be found in a growing resistance to vaccines, fueled by prominent people like environmental activist Robert Kennedy Jr. and TV personality Del Bigtree. Their primary argument, refuted by almost all prominent scientists, was that the measles vaccine led to cases of autism. Of course it was only a few months later that COVID spawned a more devastating flood of illness and death among vaccine skeptics.

Shot in the Arm

The Bottom Line

A shot of sane reporting.

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival
Director: Scott Hamilton Kennedy

1 hour 32 minutes

The film includes relevant historical background on smallpox and polio vaccines. But the primary focus is on recent events. Kennedy had access to prominent doctors like Tony Fauci, Paul Offit and Peter Hotez, who all became familiar TV faces during the intensive COVID coverage of 2020 and 2021. But it is to the filmmaker’s credit that he also secured interviews with Robert Kennedy (no relation ) and other anti-vaxxers. Their arguments rarely make much sense, but they are given an opportunity to present their case, a challenge that they can’t meet in any satisfying way.

There are some surprising tidbits in this chronicle. For example, the leader of Samoa initially stopped measles vaccinations because of his concerns about autism, but he eventually changed his mind as the number of measles deaths in his country skyrocketed. Another fascinating revelation concerns Dr. Hotez, who has a daughter with autism but who wrote a book declaring that her condition had nothing to do with vaccines. His testimony therefore carries significant weight, at least to anyone without a closed mind.

Another revelation concerns the depth and breadth of anti-vaccine vehemence. The Orthodox Jewish communities around New York have been among the most ferocious skeptics. But the film demonstrates that this resistance is a worldwide phenomenon. A massive anti-vax protest in Berlin, which included a number of Nazi party members in the crowd, is especially sobering.

At first I was a bit skeptical about the filmmaker’s decision to include familiar footage of the January 6 riots, but I had not realized that there was an anti-vax rally, under the leadership of Del Bigtree, taking place near the Capitol on the very same day The connection between these two events of unbridled fanaticism disturbs.

The film includes some footage of parents on both sides of the issue but probably would have benefited from more personal stories, along with the scientific talking heads. At times the movie is somewhat drier than we might like, but we come away with renewed admiration for the scientists who continued to tell the truth despite threats against them and their families. That admiration is coupled with despair over the stubborn ignorance that continues to rage throughout the country. The film will undoubtedly find a home on a TV outlet, where it will probably provoke more widespread admiration, along with outbursts of anger from the stubborn anti-vax crowd.

Full credits

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival
Companies: Black Valley Films, Diamond Docs
Director: Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Producers: Scott Hamilton Kennedy, Mark Monroe, Mark Steele
Executive Producer and Script Consultant: Neil deGrasse Tyson
Executive Producers: RJ Engel, Pamalee Hamilton, Matt Winkler, Peggy Winkler, Dr. Richard Klausner, Rachel Klausner, Rachel Pritzker, Todd Stiefel, Matt Ocko, Roland Pritzker
Cinematographer: Derek Wiesehahn
Editors: Alex Blatt, Tim O’Neil, Yaffa Lerea, Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Music: Tyler Strickland

1 hour 32 minutes

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