Straying into politics

But it’s for the good of humanity! The two fine looking individuals to the right are of course Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Gov. Rick Perry, two candidates for the Republican nomination for President. They are having a bit of a disagreement at present, over Mr. Perry’s position as Governor of Texas that all girls should receive the Gardisil vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV. Ms. Bachmann disagrees with that position, and feels that it should be the right of the individual to decide whether to receive a vaccination or not.  Her position on Monday’s debate was to say the this amounted to “government-mandated injection” and escalated her rant on Tuesday to claim that HPV vaccinations cause mental retardation.

I’ve previously put forward my firm position on the efficacy of vaccination, and so I won’t rehash those arguments in great detail here. The fact is, inexpensive, easily accessible, and high compliance vaccination is the single greatest improvement in public health in the United States in modern times. The last biggest sea-change in medicine was probably the elimination of blood letting in the Middle Ages.  But Michelle Bachmann probably won’t listen to me. Consequently, the American Association of Pediatrics came out with this terse press release:

The American Academy of Pediatrics would like to correct false statements made in the Republican presidential campaign that HPV vaccine is dangerous and can cause mental retardation. There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement. Since the vaccine has been introduced, more than 35 million doses have been administered, and it has an excellent safety record.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend that girls receive HPV vaccine around age 11 or 12. That’s because this is the age at which the vaccine produces the best immune response in the body, and because it’s important to protect girls well before the onset of sexual activity. In the U.S., about 6 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year, and 4,000 women die from cervical cancer. This is a life-saving vaccine that can protect girls from cervical cancer.

Short and to the point.  On seeing this news alert, I went to the Health and Human Services website to look at the most recent data for vaccine adverse reactions. According to the CDC Adverse Effect Reporting System, there were approximately 2800 adverse reactions to all of the different HPV vaccines in 2010, which included Gardisil, as well as several other vaccine derivatives against related pathogens. In the entire US last year, there were only 160 deaths associated with ANY vaccine, a fabulous rate considering the many tens of millions of vaccines administered last year. I did not calculate the number due to Gardisil, but assume less than 5% of the total, and you are left with 30 or so deaths. Contrast that with the 4000 deaths due to cervical cancer last year, out of 12,000 cervical cancer cases, and many of those cases will succumb to their cancer this year. That quick comparison says that you are 100 times more likely to die of cervical cancer in any given year than a once in a lifetime adverse Gardisil reaction.

As recorded in an interview with Sean Hannity, Bachmann declared ” I am not a doctor, I’m not a scientist, I’m not a physician.” You know what? I think that if you are going to preface your remarks with that kind of qualifier, perhaps you shouldn’t be making a scientific or medical pronouncement.  Leave those things to people who will actually take the time to examine cold, hard facts instead of anecdote and innuendo. And maybe use some logic and a bit of common sense as well.


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on September 14, 2011, in Danger danger danger!, Important, Rant, Sad and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. A bit of a “rant,” but a topic needing discussion. I brought up a discussion of “herd effect” in my class of Juniors & Seniors, most of whom had taken microbiology, and no one remembered the concept. So, keep standing in the pulpit!

    • Rep. Bachmann continued to promote this line of insanity on Leno the other night. I particularly am distressed by her comment “I wasn’t speaking as a doctor. I wasn’t speaking as a scientist. I was just relating what this woman said,” as if she would do the exact same thing if someone in a handshake line told her that the Earth was flat.

      Even separating the discussion on the safety of vaccines (I’m all for the open discussion of facts!) she is backing up her statement into a microphone (and heard and repeated by millions as “fact” because they heard a Presidential candidate state it) with an unattributed and unreliable source.

  2. Bioethicist Bets Bachmann $10,000 She Can’t Find Anyone Who Became ‘Retarded’ From HPV Vaccine

    • Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce Dr. Brian Dougherty. He allows me to make the claim in lineage of being two individuals away from a Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine.

      Oh, and I think that’s a pretty safe bet!

  3. I completely agree Bachmann should not be making medical or scientific claims especially without doing the proper research. It is common knowledge medications and vaccines can have adverse effects or side effects. Most of those effects aren’t even relevant to the thousands or millions of people who take or receive the meds or vaccines. Manufacturers are required to list them even if they happen to only one person. I agree with you, Dr. Singleton, that vaccines are great but I don’t think vaccines should be mandated unless the etiologic agent is highly contagious with multiple methods of transmission. People who don’t take proper precautions against STDs or other infections do so at their own risk.

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