Reality Check of the Day: Based on recent polls, Republican frontrunner Gov. Rick Perry currently holds a double-digit lead over GOP understudy Mitt Romney. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who trails them both, is in desperate need of a quick fix to boost her flagging numbers.
Human papillomavirus — the most common sexually transmitted infection, according to the CDC — is responsible for almost every new case of cervical cancer diagnosed in the US. Luckily, hard-working scientists have developed a vaccine that prevents the types of HPV most commonly associated with cervical cancer.
Backstory: In February of 2007, Gov. Rick Perry approved an executive order that required young girls to be vaccinated against HPV before they enter the sixth grade.
The order was easy enough to opt out of — parents were given the option of signing a form objecting to the vaccination — but social conservatives saw it as controversial nonetheless. Their main argument: Vaccinating against a sexually transmitted disease would encourage sexual promiscuity. Perry offered his critics a highly rational retort: “If the medical community developed a vaccine for lung cancer, would the same critics oppose it, claiming it would encourage smoking?”
The order was overturned by the legislature a few months later.
Since then, RP65 has come up a few times when Perry was in the hot seat, but at last night’s GOP debate, Michele Bachmann put Perry in her sights and launched an all-out anti-vaccination campaign.
“I’m a mom. And I’m a mom of three children,” Bachmann said, “And to have innocent little twelve-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong. That should never be done. It’s a violation of a liberty interest.”
She then went on to claim that the HPV vaccine was a “potentially dangerous drug” and claimed Perry was merely kowtowing to the demands of drug company donors. Later, Bachmann told Fox News she had met an audience member whose daughter allegedly became “retarded” after received the vaccine.
As mentioned above, Perry’s executive order had an explicit opt-out for parents. More importantly, any claim that receipt of the vaccine led to mental disability is entirely anecdotal. In its HPV Vaccine Safety FAQ, the CDC lists “pain at the injection site, headache, nausea, and fever” as the most serious side effects directly linked to the vaccine.
After Bachmann claimed on this morning’s Today show that “mental retardation” as a result of HPV vaccination was a “very real concern,” the American Academy of Pediatrics, in a highly unusual move, felt it necessary to issue a press release on the matter.
“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,” said AAP president Dr. O. Marion Burton. “There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement.”
The release goes on to stress the importance of administering the HPV vaccine “around age 11 or 12” when it is likely to produce “the best immune response in the body.”
“In the U.S., about 6 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year,” the statement concludes, “and 4,000 women die from cervical cancer. This is a life-saving vaccine that can protect girls from cervical cancer.”
To put into perspective just how far to the right Bachmann’s dangerous, conspiratorial, anti-science scaremongering is, on his show today Rush Limbaugh said “[t]here’s no evidence that the vaccine causes mental retardation,” and lamented the fact that Bachmann “might have jumped the shark.”
Is Michele Bachmann doing this on purpose? Seriously?