Cleveland Clinic Wellness Doctor Backs Off Antivaccine Column

Alicia Ault

January 09, 2017

The medical director of the Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute has backed off allegations he made in a newspaper column that adjuvants and preservatives in vaccines may be contributing to a rise in autism and the "chronic disease epidemic," but the physician is still facing disciplinary action by the prestigious medical institution.

The Clinic would not make the physician, Daniel Neides, MD, a family physician, and medical director and chief operating officer of the Wellness Institute, available for an interview, but issued a statement on his behalf.

"I apologize and regret publishing a blog that has caused so much concern and confusion for the public and medical community," said Dr Neides, through the Clinic. "I fully support vaccinations and my concern was meant to be positive around the safety of them," he said.

Dr Neides wrote a column that appeared on Cleveland.com, the Cleveland Plain Dealer's website, on January 6. In the piece, Dr Neides said he had taken ill after receiving an influenza vaccine. He also said that "a toxic burden" — including preservatives in vaccines — was "contributing to the chronic disease epidemic" in the United States.

"Does the vaccine burden — as has been debated for years — cause autism? I don't know and will not debate that here," wrote Dr Neides. But, he added, "What I will stand up and scream is that newborns without intact immune systems and detoxification systems are being over-burdened with PERSERVATIVES AND ADJUVANTS IN THE VACCINES."

By January 8, the Cleveland Clinic had distanced itself from Dr Neides. "Harmful myths and untruths about vaccinations have been scientifically debunked in rigorous ways," said the organization, in a statement. "We completely support vaccinations to protect people, especially children who are particularly vulnerable."

The Clinic went on to say that Dr Neides "published his statement without authorization from Cleveland Clinic. His views do not reflect the position of Cleveland Clinic and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken."

A Clinic spokeswoman would not say what action would be taken or when.

The column ignited a social media firestorm, with many attacking Dr Neides for his antivaccination views, and others saying the Cleveland Clinic only had itself to blame because it had embraced what some see as nonevidence-based medicine.

"The @ClevelandClinic is trading decades of hard won credibility for a wellness center. Insanity," said Joel Topf, MD, a nephrologist, on Twitter. Family physician Kent Willyard, MD, tweeted, "They should know better. 'Wellness' (as distinguished from healthcare) is becoming a synonym for 'quackery.'"

Adam W. Gaffney, MD, an instructor in clinical medicine at the Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center, tweeted, "It's impossible to be against 'Wellness' as a philosophy. What I oppose is the Wellness-Industrial Complex — the commoditization of Health." Dr Gaffney, who is also on the board of Physicians for a National Health Program, added, "The nexus of healthcare and capitalism is an ugly place."

"Far Too Lucrative"

Michael S. Sinha, MD, a physician-attorney and research fellow at Brigham and Women's Hospital, told Medscape Medical News that it's no accident that institutions like the Cleveland Clinic have gone after alternative medicine. "There is significant revenue to be generated, either from insurance reimbursement — after appropriate physician referral — or from patients willing to pay out-of-pocket for these services," he said in an email. Large academic medical centers also appear to be more patient-centered when they offer such services, said Dr Sinha.

The downside? Embracing a wellness center "lends legitimacy to its services, even those services that lack scientific evidence for their use," said Dr Sinha. "This can, in some patients' minds, make unproven pseudo-science seem like reasonable or equivalent alternatives to evidence-based treatments."

Even though the incident with Dr Neides may have been an embarrassment to the Cleveland Clinic, it's not likely to change the Wellness Institute business model, Dr Sinha said. "It's far too lucrative for them to abandon"

The episode may lead to fewer public comments by physicians at wellness centers, however, he said. "I suspect fewer wellness physicians — and perhaps fewer physicians in general — will have employer-promoted monthly blog posts in local news sources."

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