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Michelle Bachmann and the HPV vaccine. The only victim is our health.

by Cath Murphy

September 23, 2011

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Donate What happens when you mix together an aspiring politician, a vaccination campaign and the opportunity to score points off an adversary? You get Michelle Bachmann claiming that the vaccine against HPV, a vaccine which has been administered over 35 million times and has an excellent safety record, causes mental retardation.

Bachmann made the claim during the Republican Presidential debate and used it to direct fire at Rick “perfect hair” Perry for issuing an executive order compelling girls in the state of Texas to have the vaccine. According to Bachmann, Perry made the order in return for donations from Merck, the company which manufactures the version of the vaccine used in the US. To summarize Bachmann’s message: Perry is causing girls to become mentally retarded so that he can boost his campaign coffers.

My impression of Bachmann is that she may be a forceful orator, but that she isn’t punching heavy weight in the intellect department. Perhaps this is why she was caught on the back foot when the medical establishment reacted to her claim by rising as one person and roundly denying that the HPV vaccine poses any such danger. Bachmann was even more surprised when people wanted to know where the evidence was for her statement. Why, she said. A woman came up to me and said that’s what happened to her daughter. She had the vaccine and now she is mentally retarded.

And there you have it. One anecdote is enough to justify saying that Rick Perry takes bribes in return for allowing Merck to disable small children. Now I’m not especially sorry for Perry, who is on the record as saying that evolution is, ‘…a theory that’s out there. It’s got some gaps in it,’ (a statement which tempts me to point out that the average carbon atom also has gaps in it, but not ones big enough to drive a wedge into theoretical or otherwise). The people I do feel sympathy for are the teenage girls who miss out on the protection of the vaccine because their parents are swayed by what Bachmann said. For once the seed of doubt is planted, for many people it will not matter that the vaccine has been intensively examined for side effects in the course of its development. It will not matter than it has been used safely millions of time. It will not matter that two bioethics professors have offered $10,000 to the woman who spoke to Bachmann to provide documentation of what she claims and that so far she has failed to come forward. All it takes is one political candidate to see the opportunity to score a point and an in those minds an impression is created which will never be eradicated: that the HPV vaccine is unsafe. Michelle Bachmann will weather this storm, so will Rick Perry. But the girls don’t get the vaccine, who contract HPV and go on to develop cancer? Those are the real victims.

by Cath Murphy

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