Pediatricians expressed dismay Wednesday after learning that a newly elected member of Congress who also happens to be a medical doctor plans to question vaccine safety.
Mark Green, an emergency physician who has just been elected to Congress from Tennessee, said at a town hall on Tuesday that he wants to use his new position to question the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about vaccine safety. He cited several ideas that have been repeatedly debunked, including fears that vaccines might be linked with autism.
There is no evidence at all that vaccines or the preservatives in them cause autism, despite many studies, both national and international, that have been done to try and find any possible link. Vaccine makers have also removed many preservatives from vaccines not because they are dangerous, but to reassure people who are afraid they might hurt some children.
Yet Green repeated some of these unfounded assertions.
"I have committed to people in my community, up in Montgomery County, to stand on the CDC’s desk and get the real data on vaccines, because there is some concern that the rise in autism is the result of the preservatives that are in our vaccines,” Green can he heard saying in a video posted on the Tennessean newspaper’s website.
Green said he “would encourage families to get vaccinated at this time," and also said his own children had been vaccinated.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which strongly supports vaccination, declined to make any immediate statement but indicated members of its Tennessee chapter would contact Green.
Dr. Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and dean of the school of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said he was disappointed that a physician would repeat something that has been so thoroughly shown to be untrue.
“I’m concerned. I think we’re at the point where so many children are now exempted from vaccinations, that any physician who espouses overt anti-vaccine views is contributing to our national decline in child public health, and could be considered in violation of their Hippocrates oath,” Hotez told NBC News.
Hotez, whose own daughter has autism, has written a book about the fight against misguided vaccine skeptics, entitled “Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism.”
The CDC, other federal agencies, independent academic researchers, infectious disease specialists and pediatricians have been working to educate people about the many studies showing that vaccines are safe and effective and that they have saved millions of lives. But small but increasingly vocal group has used social media and public meetings to try to shed doubt on the safety of vaccines.
The result has been the emergence of pockets of unvaccinated children and outbreaks of disease. For instance, global cases of measles are up 30 percent, according to the World Health Organization. WHO says 110,000 children have died from measles this year alone.
There are also increasing numbers of cases of chickenpox.
A spokesman for Green said his remarks had been misunderstood and noted that Green's children have been vaccinated, but did not respond to questions about Green's statements alleging a link with autism.