PBS documentary examines how vaccines are crucial to communities and how they can save lives

Photographer Phillip Griego, producer Chris Schueler and audio technician Dave Renner interview Dr. Karissa Culbreath, microbiologist and medical director of infectious disease at TriCore Reference Laboratories. (Courtesy of Beth Baily)

The debate over vaccinations remains a hot-button issue.

New Mexico-based filmmaker Chris Schueler spent four years – and a pandemic – working on the documentary “Vaccination from the Misinformation Virus.”

“We started this program in 2017, after a conversation with infectious disease pediatrician, Dr. Walter Dehority and in conjunction with the Immunization Practitioners Advisory Committee, so we’ve been in research over three years before we started filming,” Schueler says. “We started long before the pandemic and so we address all vaccines, explaining the history and science while dispelling various myths.”

Schueler says the documentary will help parents and community leaders understand how important and safe vaccines are, how crucial they are to community health and how they save millions of lives annually.

The project revolves around a one-hour documentary that will broadcast in New Mexico on PBS stations at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 29. It will also air at 7 p.m. July 31 on KRQE.

Filmmaker Chris Schueler

Schueler says as COVID-19 spread worldwide, Americans became increasingly polarized as to its reach, scope and effects. As a result, vaccinations for this and other diseases have become flash-points in communities across the country. However, former U.S. Assistant Surgeon General, Pamela Schweitzer is encouraged and says in the film, “Our hopes to slow COVID-19 and get back to some kind of ‘normal’ hinges on peoples’ understanding of and willingness to become vaccinated. And that understanding and willingness will carry over to other vaccines.”

Dehority says that the pandemic has really offered an opportunity to educate and engage citizens about all vaccines and viruses.

The difficulty with people understanding the importance of vaccination has to do with how successful they are.

“I don’t know anybody who’s ever had measles. I’ve never seen mumps. I’ve never seen rubella. Now my children, they don’t even know what chickenpox is,” explains Karissa Culbreath, medical director of infectious diseases at TriCore Reference Laboratories. “That’s the challenge of the vaccines arguments because now disease doesn’t happen and we have to remind people who’ve never seen the disease that the disease exists.”

Schueler worked diligently to include infectious disease experts, epidemiologists, pharmacists, physicians, and various academics with expertise in misinformation as well as health disparities.

“We have to understand that folks may be hesitant to get vaccinated for reasons we may not consider,” says Schueler. “Our experts explain how all kinds of issues throughout the country contribute to extremely legitimate concerns for many disenfranchised groups.”

Pharmacist S. Brown fills a prescription at HOPE Pharmacy in Richmond, Virginia. Phillip Griego follows with his camera. (Courtesy of Christopher Productions)

The program also addresses the future of vaccines which appears to be bright.

“The good news is that two technologies that were in development have now been proven to be really effective,” explains John Grabenstein, RPh, Ph.D. of the Immunization Action Coalition. “Now scientists can go back into the labs and test them against viruses and bacteria where there is no vaccine right now.”

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