Tennessee’s newly elected Rep. Mark Green (R) has walked back comments he made to constituents on Tuesday at a town hall, where he said that he believes vaccines may lead to autism.
Green, a state senator and physician, made the dangerous and medically-unfounded claim in response to a question from a woman who said she was the mother of a young adult with autism, according to The Tennessean. The woman’s question pertained to possible cuts to Medicaid funding, but Green turned the discussion toward vaccines.
Green accused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of mismanaging data on vaccines and falsely claimed that a mercury-based preservative found in some vaccines was responsible for a rise in autism diagnoses.
“Let me say this about autism,” Green said. “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.”
“As a physician, I can make that argument,” he continued. “I can look at it academically and make the argument against the CDC, if they really want to engage me on it.”
Boonshoft School of Medicine, from which Green earned his M.D., did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on the doctor’s claims.
Green appeared to backtrack in a statement to HuffPost on Wednesday.
“Recent comments I made at a town hall regarding vaccines have been misconstrued,” the representative-elect said. “I want to reiterate my wife and I vaccinated our children, and we believe, and advise others they should have their children vaccinated.”
Some vaccines, including certain flu vaccines, contain trace amounts of thimerosal, an ethylmercury-based preservative.
Unlike methylmercury, a type of mercury found in certain kinds of fish that can be toxic to humans in high doses, the ethylmercury used to preserve vaccines does not remain in the body for long amounts of time and is considered “very safe” by the CDC.
Thimerosal was first added to vaccines in the 1930s to make the shots safer. But a now-debunked 1998 study on the link between vaccines and brain damage, as well as growing suspicion from a small number of parents over vaccine ingredients, set the stage for its removal despite the lack of scientific evidence that thimerosal was harmful.
The CDC announced in 2000 that it was removing the chemical from most childhood vaccines ― a move that some doctors say may have given anti-vaccination groups a sense of legitimacy that wasn’t actually founded in medical fact.
The “rise in autism” that Green referenced is also misleading. One in 59 children in the U.S. were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as of 2018, compared to one in 68 in 2016, according to the CDC. But officials attribute this rise at least partially to improvements made in identifying and diagnosing the disorder, particularly in minority communities.
In a 2017 release responding to fears about the link between vaccines and autism, the American Academy of Pediatrics reiterated that such claims “have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature.”
“Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease,” the AAP said.
Green will be sworn in on Jan. 3 as a freshman in the U.S. House of Representatives. He has previously received backlash for questionable comments, including a remark at a Tea Party event in 2016 that he believes being transgender “is a disease.”