LEVELAND — A Cleveland Clinic doctor who wrote a column laced with anti-vaccine rhetoric appeared to retract his commentary Sunday, but will face disciplinary action for publishing it without authorization, the health system said.
Dr. Daniel Neides, whose column spouted a widely discredited theory that vaccines are linked to autism — and whose comments sparked an online uproar — issued a brief statement through a Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman.
“I apologize and regret publishing a blog that has caused so much concern and confusion for the public and medical community,” the statement said. “I fully support vaccinations and my concern was meant to be positive around the safety of them.”
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In an accompanying statement, Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman Eileen Sheil said “appropriate disciplinary action will be taken” against Neides. The statement noted that Neides’s column was published without authorization, but did not specify what discipline he might face.
The column was published Friday on a blog on the news site cleveland.com. By Sunday afternoon, it had been removed. The clinic said it had requested the post be taken down on Neides’s behalf.
The clinic has declined to make Neides available for an interview.
In his commentary, Neides, a family doctor and the director and chief operating officer of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, said that preservatives and other ingredients in vaccines are dangerous and are likely behind the increase in diagnosed cases of neurological diseases such as autism — a claim that has long been discredited by researchers.
“Does the vaccine burden — as has been debated for years — cause autism? I don’t know and will not debate that here. What I will stand up and scream is that newborns without intact immune systems and detoxification systems are being over-burdened with PRESERVATIVES AND ADJUVANTS IN THE VACCINES,” he wrote. Adjuvants are added to vaccines to prompt a stronger immune response.
His comments triggered a firestorm on social media, with doctors sharply criticizing Neides for his apparent endorsement of debunked notions that have fueled an anti-vaccination movement based on conspiracy theories and unproven opinions. Some have called on the clinic to act quickly and harshly against Neides, while others have asserted that his comments undermine the clinic’s mission to provide sound, evidence-based medical care to its patient.
The @ClevelandClinic must specifically disavow Dr. Neides in a high-profile manner. But the damage has already been done.
— Kevin Pho, M.D. (@kevinmd) January 8, 2017
In its statement Sunday, the clinic sought to further distance itself from Neides’s comments. “Cleveland Clinic is fully committed to evidence-based medicine,” the statement said. “Harmful myths and untruths about vaccinations have been scientifically debunked in rigorous ways. We completely support vaccinations to protect people, especially children who are particularly vulnerable.”
Neides’s Wellness Institute provides “world-class medical care and quality wellness programs to change unhealthy behaviors and to make healthy life choices,” according to its website. But to the wider medical community, the claims that Neides espoused did not promote “healthy life choices.” Instead, they said, these statements were downright dangerous.
Dr. Benjamin Mazer, a resident physician in pathology at Yale-New Haven Hospital who tweeted that the article was “one of the most vile, false things I have ever read by a doctor,” said in an interview that it wasn’t an isolated event.
“This is really part of a larger movement that distrusts mainstream medicine, distrusts mainstream public health, and really trades in conspiracy theories,” he told STAT. “This article is a really prime example of that. It’s just a shame that it’s a physician spreading these conspiracy theories because people naturally trust physicians.”