Review: Protocol 7


Merck develops and produces medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies and animal health products. It has multiple blockbuster drugs or products each with 2020 revenues including cancer immunotherapy, anti-diabetic medication and vaccines against HPV and chickenpox. It is one of the largest pharma-ceutical companies in the world, generally ranking in the global top five by revenue.

In 2010, two Merck scientists, filed a whistle blower lawsuit claiming Merck, the only company licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to sell a mumps vaccine in the United States, skewed tests of the vaccine by adding animal antibodies to blood samples. Specifically, they said, Merck was able to produce test results showing that the vaccine was 95 percent effective, even though more accurate tests would have shown a lower success rate.

These skewed results did two things: 1. they allowed Merck to keep its FDA license to manufacture the vaccine, and 2. these false results kept competitors from trying to produce their own mumps vaccines, since they were unable to match the level of effectiveness Merck had falsified.

“Protocol 7” is a dramatized version of this case.

The film begins with Merck’s Vice President for Virus and Cell Biology, Dr. Emilio Errani (Eric Roberts – “The King of the Gypsies”), berating his underlings Dr. Alan Stone (Alec Rayme – “Left Behind”) and David Kirk (Harrison Tipping – “Lame Duck”), for the failure to demonstrate 96 percent efficacy of Merck’s cash cow MMR vaccine. He wants acceptable ratings – regardless of how they are achieved.

This demand set off an attempt to “prove” efficacy through a variety of means or “protocols.” Ultimately, this involves adulterated test samples and falsified results – this is Protocol 7. Those falsifications, accomplished by Kirk, take place in the lab of Steve Shilling (Josh Harris – “Inheritance”), who, unable to accept this, becomes a whistleblower.

Shilling sought out Dr. Adrian Jay (Matthew Marsden – “Girl in the Video”), who is speaking at an anti-vax conference and presents him with material he has taken from Kirk’s files at Merck. Coincidentally, Dr. Jay is also sought out by lawyer and mother Lexi Koprowski (Rachel G. Whittle – “Shadow Creek”), whose adopted son suddenly severely regressed after receiving Merck’s MMR vaccine. Jay is able to put these pieces together and trigger a lawsuit to undermine Merck’s protocol 7.

Director/writer Andrew Wakefield has created a well-acted thriller based on actual events which are still ongoing. Wakefield is himself controversial. Trained as a physician, he was stricken from the medical rolls in England in 2010 for his involvement in claims that autism was caused by MMR vaccines. Such claims were ruled fraudulent by the medical community. In “Protocol 7,” the claim is that the vaccine was ineffective in preventing mumps, allowing recipients to contract the disease later in life when its complications could be far more serious. The heart of the story is the attempt by Merck to cover up this ineffectiveness for financial reasons.

Regardless of your feelings about vaccines, and despite the ongoing controversy which has even appeared in the American presidential race, this is a well-crafted film that presents its story in an entertaining and, at times, emotionally tender way.

Runtime: One hour, 37 minutes
Availability: New York, May 31; Los Angeles, June 14; expanded theatrical thereafter

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