Bachmann's HPV Nonsense May Have Very Real Impact

Illustration for article titled Bachmanns HPV Nonsense May Have Very Real Impact

Michele Bachmann's repeated suggestions last week that the HPV vaccine might be some kind of evil "government injection" that makes little girls promiscuous and possibly "mentally retarded" may go down as one of the stupidest things ever uttered by a politician, and perhaps that's why she's totally backtracked on that statement — she was just repeating what she heard, she didn't mean it. Well, too late. Scientists say that the misinformation she's spread could set back use of the vaccine, even after Bachmann has dropped out of the race and become nothing more than a Trivial Pursuit answer (please, God).


As we saw in recent years when Jenny McCarthy popularized the incorrect belief that vaccines cause autism, when a celebrity rails against a vaccine, it can be very difficult for public health officials to correct the misconception. Dr. Rodney E. Willoughby, a professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on infectious diseases, tells the New York Times, "These things always set you back about three years, which is exactly what we can't afford."


When vaccination rates drop, diseases that were under control can reemerge, such as measles, which reached a 15-year high last spring. With most diseases, parents will start vaccinating again when they see the infection rate rise, but that won't be the case with HPV. Willoughby says, "unfortunately, the outbreak is silent and will take 20 years to manifest."

Rates of HPV vaccination were already troublingly low even before Bachmann weighed in on the matter. In a study released last month, the CDC found that last year slightly less than half of all girls have had the first shot of the HPV vaccine, and only one third have received all three doses.

Parents are far more likely to get their daughters two other vaccines that came out around the same time, one for meningitis and another for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, which seems to confirm that the fears about the HPV vaccine are mainly about sex. Willoughby suggests that parents are particularly hesitant about getting their preteens vaccinated because they're just beginning to worry that they'll start having sex soon. He proposes administering the shot at a much younger age to deemphasize the link between the vaccine and sexual activity. He explains:

"There's probably no reason why it should be 11 or 12, as opposed to 5 or 6 or even birth ... If it were being given in kindergarten, I don't think would be an adherence problem."


Unfortunately many parents already see the innoculation as a license to screw, and the ridiculous claims from Bachmann and the other candidates only solidified this idea. The Republican Party giving anti-science, anti-fact politicians a national platform is already hurting the country, even if they don't make it to the White House.

Remark on HPV Vaccine Could Ripple for Years [NYT]
Bachmann Says Vaccine Retardation Claim Not Hers [AP]


Earlier: The Sex-Hating Hysteria Behind Republicans' HPV Vaccine Debate
Bioethicist Bets Michele Bachmann $10,000 She's Wrong About HPV
Jay Leno, Of All People, Grills Michele Bachmann On HPV And Gay Marriage
Study Linking Autism And Vaccines Was A Total Fraud
Teens Still Aren't Getting The HPV Vaccine

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Before jumping to the conclusion that Michelle Bachmann is some crazy, misogynistic, yet female nut, one might want to check the, umm, actual science, such as it is on something this new: look up a case in the CDC's VAERS database 380440. The case was reported on February 15, 2010:

Since receiving 1st dose of Gardasil, I started noticing a decline in my child's mental health. She has become depressed and has extreme difficulty concentrating. Shortly after receiving her 3rd dose of the vaccine, she started having stomach pains. These have continued to this date. We have had an ultrasound, CT scan, blood and urine work done, still no answers.

And VAERS 396852. That case was reported on August 8, 2010:

Was called by outside institution. Pt is admitted for acute mental status change. Physician caring for Pt states she is very disorganized in her thinking. Pt prior was normal functioning. Pt is still hospitilized in psychiatric hospital x 5 days.

And VAERS 339718. Reported February 17, 2009:

Approx 3 weeks after getting 1st set of Gardasil, patient complained that she was weak and was having a hard time speaking. On 11/29/08 patient had 2 seizures. She was was taken to the ER. Since the first few days of her illness, she stopped being able to talk, walk and has been completely unresponsive. She is on a ventilator & has a feeding tube. She has neurological movements. All of the testing done shows that patient has encephalitis. The cause of the Encephalitis is a reaction to the Gardasil Vaccine... FINAL DX: meningoencephalitis w/significant mental changes & seizures Records reveal patient experienced seizure that progressed to loss of speech, sustained focal seizures... seizure disorder; history of depression w/suicidal attempts... not able to follow commands... severe neurological damage. Now w/fever, hypotension & decreased mental status[.]

And VAERS 337242 from 2009:

My daughter had her 3rd GARDASIL vaccine in Sept. She was a very healthy young lady, she went to take a shower and died. Autopsy report states undermined death. There was no sign of trauma to the body to indicate a fall. She had pointed the shower head away from her and she got down on her knees and put her head on the edge of the tub and passed away. This has been a living nightmare for her family. She is not the only one to have had problems and death from this vaccine. Please I beg you to please take it off until it can be further tested. -not tested long enough to begin with- There will be others that will die if the cause is not found.

The CDC summarizes adverse effects following vaccinations with Gardasil:

As of June 22, 2011, approximately 35 million doses of Gardasil® were distributed in the U.S. and VAERS received a total of 18,727 reports of adverse events following Gardasil® vaccination... Of the total number of VAERS reports following Gardasil®, 92% were considered to be non-serious, and 8% were considered serious*...

As of June 22, 2011 there have been a total 68 VAERS reports of death among those who have received Gardasil® .

*"Serious" means "hospitalization, permanent disability, life-threatening illness, congenital anomaly or death."

So about 1,500 serious adverse events out of 35 million doses, for a rate of about 4 per 100,000 doses. But each patient gets about three doses, so that could be 12 serious adverse events per 100,000 vaccinated patients.

Two in 100,000 white women die each year from cervical cancer. The rate for African American women is twice that. HPV vaccines are considered "highly effective" in preventing infections of "two high-risk HPVs that cause about 70 percent" of cervical cancers.

So the vaccine, according to CDC records, appears to have a higher incidence of serious adverse consequences than does the disease it's being prescribed to prevent. That would seem to be the opposite of a "good idea." It could make a lot of sense for people who have a particular susceptability or pre-disposition by genetics, perhaps, to the type of cervical cancers caused by HPV and/or persons whose life-styles make them peculiarly likely to contract HPV, but clearly not every-f'n-body. And therein lies the frankly horrendous evil of government intervention in individual medical decisions. It's ham-fisted. It's paternalistic. It's subject to industry/economic influence. It's overreaching. It's unconstitutional. It's bad science. It would be funny, were it not so tragic that the same people who are catterwalling about Michelle Bachman's statement (however, hyperbolic and political it, too, may have been) are probably also people who would be apoplectic if Rick Perry, a guy who foolishly kow-towed to big pharma and faux science to mandate HPV vaccinations in Texas became president.

Let's get it straight here, people: There's one simple rule and it leans neither left nor right—government has no business involving itself in our personal medical decisions or treatment. That is a private matter between patient and doctor. Government intrusion always has unintended, adverse consequences, because it cannot adequately take individual factors into account. There are more reasons, but that is enough.