Groups say HPV vaccine is safe, call Bachmann wrong on the issue

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 9:25 am | More from The Minnesota Independent

Michele Bachmann was the target of harsh criticism Tuesday after she asserted that the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine could cause mental retardation. For once, people from both sides of the political spectrum, health professionals and advocates for people with disabilities all agreed: Bachmann got it very wrong.

Bachmann made her remarks immediately following Monday’s tea party debate. She had dogged Texas Gov. Rick Perry on the issue of the vaccine during the debate because she disagreed with Perry’s past attempts at mandating it for public school children.

“The problem is it comes with some very significant consequences,” Bachmann said of the vaccine on FOX news following the debate. “There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine. There are very dangerous consequences. It’s not good enough to take, quote, ‘a Mulligan’ or you want a do-over. Not when you have little children’s lives at risk.”

It wasn’t simply a gaffe, because on Tuesday morning Bachmann repeated the same story on the Today Show, alleging that the vaccine can have “very dangerous side effects” and that ”people have to draw their own conclusions.”

Later Bachmann added, “There is no second chance for these little girls if there’s any dangerous consequences to their bodies.”

‘Dangerous and Irresponsible’
On Tuesday evening, Dr. O. Marion Burton, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement criticizing Bachmann’s statements.

“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,” Burton said. “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.”

Burton pointed out that 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: “This is a life-saving vaccine that can protect girls from cervical cancer.”

The Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership also released a statement.

“Congresswoman Bachmann’s decision to spread fear of vaccines is dangerous and irresponsible,” said Evan Siegfried, a spokesman GRASP. “There is zero credible scientific evidence that vaccines cause mental retardation or autism. She should cease trying to foment fear in order to advance her political agenda.”

Dr. Paul Offit, author of Autism’s False Prophets, told Mother Jones that Bachmann’s comments could misinform people who are genuinely trying to educate themselves about vaccines.

Even Merck, the maker of Gardasil, the brand name for many HPV vaccines used by American physicians, weighed in. “We are confident in the safety profile of Gardasil,” Pam Eisele, a spokeswoman for the company told Financial Times. “Leading health organisations throughout the world have reviewed all the safety information available and continue to recommend its use.”

By Tuesday night, the Washington Post already had published an editorial harshly criticizing the congresswoman.

“Ms. Bachmann’s hysterics about hapless little girls being forced to get injections has us wondering if she would roll back requirements for what has come to be routine immunizations against polio, chicken pox, measles and other diseases,” the paper wrote. “‘Cervical cancer is a horrible way to die,’ Mr. Perry said Monday. Equally horrible is the thought that small-minded political arguments could sabotage the means that are on hand to stop the spread of this deadly virus—and could undermine the control of many other diseases besides.”

Conservatives React
Right-wing talker Rush Limbaugh said the Bachmann jumped the shark with her statement.

“Alright, now she had scored the points in the debate. But now this comment has become a news item for Bachmann today, rather than what she said at the debate last night,” Limbaugh said. “That’s what I mean by ‘jumping the shark.’ She scored the points and should have left it there.”

Perry himself attacked Bachmann’s comments.

“You heard the same arguments about giving our children protections from some of the childhood diseases, and they were.. autism was part of that. Now we’ve subsequently found out that was generated and not true,” Perry told NBC. “I would suggest to you that this issue about Gardasil and making it available was about saving people’s lives.”

Conservative blogger and Minnesota native, Ed Morrissey, was perplexed by Bachmann’s statement.

“The most charitable analysis that can be offered in this case for Bachmann is that she got duped into repeating a vaccine-scare urban legend on national television,” Morrissey wrote. “It looks more like Bachmann sensed that she had won a point and wanted to go in for the kill, didn’t bother to check the facts, and didn’t care that she was stoking an anti-vaccination paranoid conspiracy theory, either. Neither shines a particularly favorable light on Bachmann.”

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