Rep.-elect Mark Green, who is also a doctor, falsely claimed at a town hall Tuesday that a rise in autism cases could be linked to preservatives in vaccines, according to a video posted by The Tennessean on Wednesday.
The video shows Green, a Republican from Tennessee, saying he’ll confront the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about autism and vaccines.
“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.”
However, Green said after the video was published Wednesday that his comments are being “misconstrued.”
“Recent comments I made at a town hall regarding vaccines has been misconstrued. I want to reiterate my wife and I vaccinated our children, and we believe, and advise others they should have their children vaccinated,” Green said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.
But, in separate comments Wednesday to The Tennessean, Green appeared to reiterate his previous comments, but adding that vaccines are “essential to good population health.”
“There appears to be some evidence that as vaccine numbers increase, rates of autism increase,” Green told The Tennessean. “We need better research, and we need it fast. We also need complete transparency of any data. Vaccines are essential to good population health. But that does not mean we should not look closely at the correlation for any causation.”
The alleged correlation between vaccines and autism has been widely debunked, and has been called out by the advocacy group Autism Speaks, which previously said, “Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.”
CNN has reached out to the CDC for comment about Green’s remarks.
“Studies, including one analysis of more than a million children, show no link between vaccines and autism,” said CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “We don’t know what causes autism, but we know with certainty that vaccines do not.”
This isn’t the first time Green has found himself in the middle of controversy – he also had been tapped by President Donald Trump to be considered for secretary of the Army. He ultimately withdrew from the process after his nomination ran into trouble following a backlash for past controversial statements he had made on LGBT issues, Islam and evolution.
In 2016, Green told a tea party group that “if you poll the psychiatrists, they’re going to tell you that transgender is a disease.” In 2013, Green blasted President Barack Obama for supporting what he said were “‘transvestites in uniform.”
Green, who is a former Army doctor, is also a self-identified “creationist” who has delivered a lecture arguing against the theory of evolution.
CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski, Ryan Browne and Dan Merica contributed to this report.