Controversial anti-vaccine movie Vaxxed is set to premiere under stealth in New Zealand next month, prompting fears that the film could lead to more children missing out on vaccination.
Ticket buyers will only be notified of the venue by text or email three hours before its screening in a bid to foil any protests after some planned overseas screenings were halted by an outcry from the public and scientists.
The vaccine-sceptic group Warnings About Vaccine Expectations, WAVES-NZ, is selling tickets at $19.64 to see the premiere at a secret location in West Auckland on April 2.
WAVES, formerly the Immunisation Awareness Society, said: "The reason for this is that other screenings of this film overseas have been cancelled due to venues being threatened with legal action and withdrawal of sponsorship to film festivals."
The director of Vaxxed: From cover-up to catastrophe is Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced, former British doctor struck off the medical register over an unethical study.
His 1998 research paper in The Lancet argued the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine could be linked to autism and bowel disorders. He was de-registered in 2010 when a medical tribunal found him guilty of dishonesty and said he had subjected children to unnecessary procedures.
Soon after, the Lancet retracted the 1998 paper.
Promotions for the film say it documents the investigation into how the US Government Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "concealed and destroyed data from their 2004 study that showed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism".
Actor Robert De Niro, the founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, who has a son with autism, withdrew Vaxxed from the festival last year, but later said he regretted doing so.
He said the decision to pull the movie was made after reviewing it with festival organisers and the scientific community.
WAVES chairwoman Tracy Livingston said that if there was corruption at the CDC, "we need to know", because the Ministry of Health relied on its data.
The film would be shown in at least 10 locations around New Zealand, she said.
Experts interviewed by the Weekend Herald said no research evidence supported an MMR-autism association.
"I have not seen the movie," said Paediatric Society president Dr David Newman, "but what I have read indicates that it is taking a view that supports incorrect scientific principle. In fact, there is no link between MMR vaccine ... and autistic spectrum disorders."
He is concerned the film might discourage some parents from having their children vaccinated, leaving them at risk of serious illnesses.
"I would be extremely concerned if there was an attempt to take this to a more broad distribution [than the advertised premiere]."
"It is possible we could bring social pressure to bear on the people who are proposing to show this movie."
Around 7 per cent of 8-month-old Kiwi kids have not had all their primary immunisations on time, Government data shows.
The ministry did not express concern about the movie.
Its director of protection, regulation and assurance, Stewart Jessamine, said: "Discussion and debate around immunisation takes place regularly and the ministry has confidence in New Zealand's robust and effective vaccination programme."