Gardasil From Evil
In the September 12 Tea Party Express/CNN debate, Representative Michele Bachmann took Governor Rick Perry to task for signing an executive order requiring Gardasil vaccinations before young women could attend public schools. Gardasil is a vaccination which protects young women from the human papilloma virus, known to increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer. Gardasil is made by the drug giant Merck, and Perry’s ties to Merck are well-known and were the subject of heated attacks at last week’s debate.
After the debate, on Greta van Susteren’s Fox News show, Bachmann refused to walk back her comments:
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.
The next day, Fox’s Sean Hannity (on his radio show) pressed her for more information:
Is that one of the side effects of this? ’Cause I’ve not heard that.
[Bachmann repeats the anecdote.]
I am not a doctor, I’m not a scientist, I’m not a physician. All I was doing is reporting what this woman told me last night at the debate. As a mother — my husband and I have five biological children, three daughters, and we’ve raised 23 foster children in the home. As a mother, I would not want the Federal government or a state government to mandate that my child has to have an injection just because the state says so.
Bioethicist Arthur Caplan has offered $10,000 if Rep. Bachmann can produce this woman who she claims met her after the debate. He emailed and tweeted his challenge:
If she can produce a case in one week starting today verified by three medical experts that she and i pick of a woman who became ‘retarded’ (her words) due to HPV vaccine i will donate that to a charity of her choice. She must donate 10k to a charity I pick if she fails to do so.
As far as I’m aware, Caplan’s challenge has been ignored by Bachmann.
What is this evil Gardasil, and why has it become the center of so much controversy?
There are a number of viruses which have been definitively shown to cause cancer in humans. Most are in the category of retroviruses, viruses which use RNA as their genetic material. A small number are DNA tumor viruses. Either kind of virus works by enslaving the body’s cells and turning them into molecular copy machines churning out copies of the virus. RNA viruses (retroviruses) usually cause the most damage to a cell’s DNA.
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a DNA tumor virus which has been shown to increase the risk of cervical cancer in sexually active women. Viral infection is quite common. More than 1⁄4 of women 14 to 59 test positive for HPV infection.
There are several strains of HPV, designated with a number. The HPV-16 and HPV-18 strains are estimated to cause 70% of all cervical cancers. HPV-6 and HPV-11 cause genital warts but are not thought to increase cancer risk. Gardisil vaccination protects against all four of these types (6, 11, 16 and 18).
Bachmann’s denial of the benefits of Gardasil vaccination, and her trumpeting of exceedingly rare side effects, is part of a larger pattern of dangerous anti-vaccine propaganda which was detailed in Seth Mnookin’s book The Panic Virus.
There have been 35 million doses of Gardasil administered in the United States. Of those, 18,727 (0.05%) caused adverse effects reported to the Centers for Disease Control’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) as required by law. Of those 18,727 adverse events, 8% (0.004% of the total) were considered serious. None of the serious side effects (including Guillain-Barré Syndrome, an autoimmune paralysis which some believe is triggered by vaccination) were found to be higher than what is normally expected in the population. Over 4,000 women die of cervical cancer each year, and according to the National Cancer Institute, each year 2,800 of these deaths could have been prevented with an effective vaccination program.
Not only is the anti-vaccine position an extreme one amongst the scientifically literate, but it’s part of a larger trend seen in the Tea Party population which was strongly represented at the debate last week (after all, it was sponsored by one of the larger Tea Party organizations).
Tea Party supporters tend to be strongly anti-science, in contrast with the remainder of Americans who actually believe the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Cancer Institute, Environmental Protection Agency, and the overwhelming majority of mainstream scientists.
For example, earlier this month, a CNN/ORC poll asked if the theory of evolution is definitely true, probably true, probably false, or definitely false. Of those polled, 25% of Tea Party opponents believe it’s probably or definitely false; 39% of those who are neutral with regard to the Tea Party believe it’s false; while a majority (58%) of Tea Party supporters think the theory of evolution is probably or definitely false.
Supporters of the Tea Party are similarly at odds with scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW). A large majority (77%) of Tea Party opponents feel that AGW is a real phenomenon. About half (48%) of those who are neutral on the Tea Party hold this view. But amongst Tea Party supporters, only 18% feel AGW is a real phenomenon while 31% believe there is global warming as a result of natural processes and a majority (51%) think that there is no global warming at all.
This view is also held by Governor Perry, who accused scientists of fraud:
A substantial number of scientists … have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects.
The only problem with this view is that scientists are not, in general, wealthy people. Name one scientist on the Forbes list of the world’s richest men. If they’ve used fabricated data to enrich themselves, they’re clearly not doing it right.
I expect better from Presidential candidates. Is it too much to ask that a person who wants to become leader of the free world actually believe in science and technology?
- Straying into politics (bio230fall2010.wordpress.com)
- Bioethicists Offer $11,000 Reward If Michele Bachmann Can Prove Her Claims About Gardisil (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Bachmann makes health claims about HPV vaccine not ‘speaking as a doctor’ (thehill.com)
- Michele Bachmann Links HPV Vaccine To Solyndra AND Obamacare (articles.businessinsider.com)
- Michele Bachmann, the HPV vaccine and the Republican landscape (guardian.co.uk)
- What does HPV have to do with cervical cancer and should I get the vaccine for HPV? (zocdoc.com)
- With Friends Like These …? Bachmann’s Former Campaign Manager Becoming Her Chief Critic (abcnews.go.com)
- 21 st Century Bug
- Negative Pressure
- The 2012 Republican Primary Field: January 12, 2012
- New Hampshire Primary Results
- New Hampshire Primary Preview
- The 2012 Republican Primary Field: January 5, 2012
- Bachmann Out
- Last Jenga Standing
- Snowball’s Chances Getting Warmer
- The 2012 Republican Primary Field: December, 2011