Invisible Threat Film Helps Teens Appreciate Science Behind Vaccines
Aug 20, 2014

NIAM14_CollegeAgeA child’s immunization status is largely determined by their parents.  However, as children mature into teens and young adults it’s important that they gain a personal appreciation for the value of vaccines.  If they’re going to be equipped to make their own informed immunization decisions – as adults and parents themselves one day – than we need to ensure they’re educated on the subject as teenagers.  High school science courses should be preparing them with a basic understanding of infectious diseases and immunology.  They should be learning how to identify reputable sources and conduct thorough research.  And they should be preparing to make their own health decisions by understand the risks of disease, the benefits of community immunity and the importance of immunizations throughout the life span.

theinvisible_threat_Promo_Facebook_avatar_450x450There is no better example of how capable young adults are in understanding the science behind immunizations than in the making of the captivating 40-minute documentary “Invisible Threat“.  The film, which was produced by a small group of award-winning students from chstvFILMS at Carlsbad High School in California, explores the science of vaccination.  The student filmmakers set out to understand the fears that have lead some parents to delay or decline vaccines, and in doing so they also explored the reasons behind the resurgence of preventable diseases in their community.

Funded by an unrestricted grant, they addressed this project as journalists, with the sole purpose to reveal the truth about vaccines – whatever that may be.  After extensive research and numerous interviews with families, physicians and various experts, they were shocked and convinced by what they discovered and they used their film to share that information with their peers.

Seventeen year old filmmaker Allie DeGour, who was going into her sophomore year when she started her journey with “Invisible Threat“, explains:

I have been a part of CHSTV for 3 years now and my contribution to this film was research and reporting. My experience throughout the making of this film was a complete roller coaster ride. Not only was it an insightful and educational journey, but it was also one that changed my thoughts on an array of subjects.

When I began working on this film, I had a strong disliking to vaccinations. The needles, the thought of the process, and the “pain” when you get one. Just thinking about it made me uncomfortable. Because of this, I was extremely stubborn about changing my views on shots and vaccinations. About a week into conducting research for this film, (yes, we all contributed long after-school hours to educate ourselves on this subject), my beliefs were foggy. I didn’t know what to believe anymore. Were vaccinations causing innocent little kids to get autism? Were they the cause of saddened parents around the world? This is what I was going to find out. 

I started asking my fellow filmmakers what their thoughts were on this. They had been conducting the same research so they were bound to have made their own conclusions, right? Wrong. They were just as confused as I was. This was when we realized this was something we had to really dig deep into. After months of researching, filming, and interviewing, we had all drawn our own conclusions on the subject. My personal conclusion is that vaccinations causing autism is a social controversy, not a scientific one. The scientific evidence was there to prove there was no connection between vaccines and autism and we interviewed a leading autism researcher in the film who explained it to us.

The experience of creating Invisible Threat has not only helped me become a much more educated student, but also an educated patient. No longer will I be terrified to go into an appointment with my doctor because of a shot or vaccination that I have to receive. Now that I know what it’s going to do in the long run, it’s worth it. 

Once the film was complete, Every Child By Two, a non-profit organization committed to reducing the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases in children, invited national legislators to an official launch at the Capitol Visitors’ Center on May 1st, in Washington, DC.  Since then dozens of hospitals, universities and public health departments have invited students, educators, parents and health professionals to special screenings of the film, sparking critical conversations about the science of immunization and the dangers of under-vaccinated communities. Then on August 1st, in honor of National Immunization Awareness Month, the film became available on demand for public rental.

Below, Mark Huckaby, the film’s student narrator, discusses his personal involvement with the film, his attendance at the national launch, and the impact he believes the film has had.

When I was first approached with the idea of working on ‘Invisible Threat’, I understood that documentaries can be serious and educational.  The approach of filming and creating a documentary can also include humor and irony; but it is the “actual” and “real” nature that separates documentaries from other types of movie media. For me, this meant that we students, as filmmakers, could not bend the truth about vaccinations in any way.  We were committed to exposing the facts.

We were very careful to make sure we presented all sides of our story and we did so by using science, personal stories and testimonies. We knew that our audience would include kids like us, so we worked hard to make sure everyone would understand the science behind how vaccines work. However, I knew that it would be the personal stories that peopled shared with us that would have the most impact.

Frankie Milley and her husband remember her son Ryan, who died as a result of meningitis.

Frankie Milley and her husband remember her son Ryan, who died as a result of meningitis.

Meeting new people with different backgrounds and ideas about vaccinations really opened my eyes on the subject. Looking back on my experience I realize that interviewing Frankie Millie was the most powerful moment of my journey while making this film. I knew Frankie lost her son Ryan to meningitis, so I was nervous to have her talk about him. However, once the interview started, my nervousness literally escaped me as I listened intently to what Frankie had to say.  She pleaded with parents to vaccinate their children so they wouldn’t have to go through the pain she experienced.  The entire studio was tearing up. She truly shared her pain and gave us a face for the reason to vaccinate. This interview convinced me that, for the sake of our children and our children’s children, we should vaccinate to protect the future.

I learned a lot while working on Invisible Threat.  I gained experience with shooting video with a DSLR and narrated the film in a professional sound studio. I participated in some of the early research into the subject of vaccinations, the filming of the movie and attended the film premiere at the Capitol Center in Washington, DC.

Invisible Threat student narrator pictured with actor Amanda Peet at the Capitol Visitors' Center

Student narrator, Mark Huckaby, pictured with actor Amanda Peet at the Capitol Visitors’ Center during the national launch of Invisible Threat.

While at the premiere I was surprised to see how many people were eager to watch our high school film and it was exciting to hear the different opinions people had.   From important Congressmen to actress Amanda Peet, everyone was interested in learning about my experience while making the film.  It made me realize how film can touch lives and move people to action, and I continue to be inspired by the passion and activism of those who have attended screening all across the country.

From start to finish this documentary gave us all an inside look into how films are made and the impact they can have. But our film is also very important because it addresses the concern of outbreaks of preventable diseases in our communities and how immunizations can help protect us.  I’m proud to have been a part of ‘Invisible Threat’ and I’m excited that the film is now available to anyone who is interested in learning more about the importance of immunizations.

Several other filmmakers have shared their perspective of the project.  Student film writer Camille Posard discussed how anti-vaccine opposition to the project helped commit students to journalistic integrity, and Hannah explained how having an autistic brother made her more skeptical of vaccines.  These students, and others, now have a greater understanding of immunizations as a result of their involvement with this film.  Our hope during National Immunization Awareness month is that by encouraging others to share the Invisible Threat film, we will continue to help educate more teens and young adults on this important subject.  Click here to view the Invisible Threat film trailer or to rent Invisible Threat on demand

For more resources that address teen and young adult vaccinations check out Every Child By Two’s National Immunization Awareness Month feature on their website, or click on any of the links below.

Recommended Immunization Schedule for Infants and Teens (7 – 18 years old)

Recommended Immunization Schedule for Adults

Adolescent and Adult Vaccine Quiz – Which Vaccines are Recommended for You?

ACIP Immunization Recommendations for College Students

Vaccines for Travel

CDC Campaign Materials: You are the Key to HPV Cancer Prevention

Video Stories of Those Affected by Meningitis

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