Is Michelle Bachmann Another Dr. Oz? A $10,000 HPV Vaccine Question

Michele Bachmann
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Michelle Bachmann's associating the HPV vaccine with mental retardation has brought her a backlash of scientific finger-wagging second only to the controversy of Dr. Oz and the arsenic-tainted apple juice fiasco of this past week. So much so, that a bioethicist has recently challenged Michelle Bachmann with a $10,000 gift to a charity of her choice if she can reveal one patient adversely affected by the HPV vaccine.

HPV Vaccine in Texas

Bachmann’s descent into scientific rebuke began during the GOP presidential debate when she attacked Texas Governor Rick Perry for mandating legislative policy in 2007 that all girls as young as 12-years-old in the state of Texas must be given the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. "I'm a mom. And I'm a mom of three children. And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat-out wrong," Bachmann said during the debate. "It's a violation of a liberty interest."

In June of 2006, the FDA approved the use of the quadrivalent human papillomavirus recombinant vaccine (qHPV) to prevent the infection of several types of genital human papillomavirus (HPV), which is responsible for 70% of cervical cancers worldwide. The vaccine also protects against anogenital cancers and precancerous or dysplastic lesions including genital warts. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that approximately 6 million U.S. citizens become infected by the virus with a resulting 4,000 deaths per year due to cervical cancer.

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The problem with Michelle Bachmann’s statement during the debate was that she had added to the growing public misperception that vaccinations are unsafe. However, the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back came the next day while she was being interviewed on NBC’s TODAY Show. Bachmann talked about how a woman came to her in tears following the debate and told her that her daughter had been vaccinated and now was adversely affected. "She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter," Bachmann told TODAY.

Bachmann’s TODAY interview has brought derision and scorn from the medical community. So much so, that University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan has issued a challenge to Michelle Bachmann on Twitter that if she can produce a verified vaccine victim that he will donate $10,000 to the charity of her choice. However, he believes that Bachmann should in turn donate $10,000 to a pro-vaccine group if she fails to identify one victim.

Arthur Caplan believes that the HPV vaccine is crucial to protecting a significant number of women. When asked whether he believes that the HPV vaccine should be mandatory, Arthur Caplan stated, "Yes. The data show that the vaccine is safe and effective. Mandates ensure money is there to pay for access. And mandates still permit people to opt out if they don't want their child vaccinated, as we have for all other 'mandates' — a fact somehow lost in the ignorant comments from GOP candidates about HPV vaccines."

Whether Bachmann will take up Dr. Caplan’s challenge remains to be seen. But the truth of the matter is that there are no winners in this. Opinions have already been formed and worse yet, reinforced, and the damage is done. The public perception of vaccines being unsafe will take an unfortunate toll on lives that otherwise would have been saved.

Image source of Michelle Bachmann: Wikipedia

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