More than a dozen current and former Carlsbad High School students have found themselves in the middle of the long-running vaccination debate after they produced the film Invisible Threat.
The film debuted online August 1, more than a year after it was completed.
Students tell NBC 7 that’s largely due to the backlash they’ve faced, even during the production stage.
Brad Streicher worked on the film his junior year. The current USC student and NBC 7 intern said the idea came from the San Diego Rotary Club.
People there were impressed by two previous films they’d worked on and wanted the high school broadcast journalism class to do one on the immune system and immunizations.
“We ended up telling Rotary we'll do the film but only on our terms, which means we were going to approach the film from a journalistic standpoint,” said Streicher. “We wanted to make sure whatever story we were telling, it would be unbiased and we would attack it from both sides of the argument.”
The Rotary gave the students $60,000 for the project with that understanding, according to Streicher.
Months into the film’s production, students say they started to received e-mails and online comments harshly criticizing their work.
People called the project “pro-vaccine” and “propaganda.” At one point the teacher and director of the film, Douglas Green, proposed the students stop the project. The students refuse.
“No matter what kind of obstacles we were going to go through, we were going to tell the story that we were assigned to tell,” Streicher told NBC 7.
NBC 7 reached out to one of the people in San Diego with concerns about the film. Vaccine safety advocate Rebecca Estepp said she supports the students and their hard work, but is concerned about who may be influencing the project.
“Those kids had to have flown around the country and knowing it was screened on Capitol Hill with a huge advocacy push with a way to have people contact every member of Congress…it kind of makes you wonder who's really behind this? Because that's a huge effort one that I don’t think Carlsbad High School can take on,” Estepp said.
Estepp said she was also disappointed with how her side was portrayed. She said she, and many people who share her views, are not “anti-vaccinations,” but rather concerned with the safety of vaccines. She said she was particularly offended when the film compared those with her viewpoints with white supremacists and the Taliban.
“One doctor calls us evil. If you question anything about the vaccine schedule he puts you into the evil compartment. I don’t think that's fair,” she told NBC 7.
Streicher said he and the other students did everything possible to tell all sides of the debate.
“I do not regret the decision that we made. I am confident that we're doing the right thing,” he said.