Health

The Cleveland Clinic Is Disciplining a Doctor for Spreading Misinformation About Vaccines

Dr. Daniel Neides is the medical director and chief operating officer of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. With such an important position at a prestigious medical establishment, Neides' opinion carries great weight — and, unfortunately, he's using his stature to spread dangerous nonsense about vaccines.

Indeed, a recent column Neides wrote was so full of pseudoscientific misinformation that the publisher took it down for several hours and the doctor himself was forced to issue an apology.

Written for Cleveland.com, and using the Cleveland Clinic's logo, Neides' column urged readers to make 2017 the year to avoid "toxins," a word that serves as a clue that bad science is about to be deployed.

The alternative medicine concept of "toxins" needing to be "flushed out" from one's system actually has no scientific basis, but "detoxification" is nonetheless a multi-billion dollar industry, scamming consumers to buying expensive products that treat non-existent conditions. And it's this fake term Neides' used to describe real, preventative health care in the form of vaccines.

Neides begins his column on "toxins" by describing his quest for a flu shot, and in particular a "preservative free vaccine, thinking I did not want any thimerasol (i.e. mercury) that the 'regular' flu vaccine contains."

Neides writes that he was shocked to discover that even the "preservative free" flu vaccine contains formaldehyde, which he believes put him in bed for two days with flu-like symptoms, forcing him to miss work. His science goes from bad to dangerous when he then suggests a link between autism and preservatives in vaccines, a "link" that has long been debunked.

 

Where to begin with Neides' disinformation? For starters, there is no "regular" flu vaccine with "mercury" in it. There is a multi-dose flu shot with the preservative thimerasol, but the one-shot vaccine that most Americans get has no need for that at all. Beyond that, the mercury in thimerasol is ethylmercury, a form that's easily expelled and causes no harm. Even still, thimerasol was phased out of all vaccines except the multi-dose flu shot, and even that is rarely used, and thus hardly to blame for children with autism.

Neides is correct that the flu vaccine contains formaldehyde, used as an additive to prevent spoilage. According to science writer Brian Dunning, "Without such sterilization, a vial of vaccine might become contaminated while it's sitting on the shelf. Formaldehyde is used because it's naturally found in the human body, as it's a normal byproduct of digestion and metabolism."

Formaldehyde might sound bad, in other words, but fear mongers are exploiting ignorance: Dosage matters, and a pear contains 7.5 times as much of it as a flu shot.

Neides also suggests children get too many vaccines too early in life. "Does the vaccine burden — as has been debated for years — cause autism?" Neides rhetorically asks, inferring that this "burden" is still the subject of legitimate debated by legitimate. It's not, as the science is overwhelming that vaccines do not cause autism.

Indeed, much of Neides' column consists of him asking leading questions that have already been answered, or using dark language to 

  • He writes of vaccine-getters as being "lined up like cattle."
  • He writes that aluminum-based adjuvants used in vaccines "can be incredibly harmful to the developing nervous system" without adding that adjuvants are what stimulate the immune system into responding to the injection, thereby immunizing the patient, and that the amount of aluminum used is far less than what's already in the body.
  • He uses the unsound "too many too soon" argument to evoke "precious newborns" being overwhelmed by dozens of shots. In reality, numerous studies show even newborns can fight off illnesses far worse than anything in an inactivated or weak vaccine.
  • He blames the increase in autism diagnoses to "something over-burdening our ability to detoxify." This is not a scientifically recognized condition, nor does it recognize the impact of the medical profession's improved ability to recognize signs of autism.

Once published, the column immediately spurred a backlash by science writers, with both Neides and the Cleveland Clinic harshly criticized for pushing dangerous misinformation. The Clinic has since distanced itself from the column and is promising to discipline its employee for associating his opinions with their name.

Neides has himself apologized for the column and retracted its claims, even if it remains online. But the damage is done: One anti-vaccine website called the column's advice "smart recommendations," and it's certain that the Cleveland Clinic's prestige will now be used to lend credibility to debunked pseudoscience for years to come.