Michele Bachmann & The HPV Vaccine
Michele Bachmann scored major points at a recent Republican debate by slamming Rick Perry for his mandate to vaccinate female 12-year-old students against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Perry claimed to be offended at Bachmann’s suggestion that he could be bought by pharmaceutical companies; Bachmann responding she was offended for “all the little girls and parents who didn’t have a choice.”
But Bachmann pushed further, making the case about more than personal liberties. On NBC’s Today Show, she made a controversial statement connecting the vaccine to other health problems:
At about 2:10, Bachmann describes a mother who approached her after the debate: “She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection. And she suffered from mental retardation thereafter…This is the very real concern and people have to draw their own conclusions.”
The debate over the legality or ethics of mandating a vaccine is one thing; but scientific and medical communities have completely rejected Bachmann’s suggestion that Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, causes mental retardation.
In an apparent first, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement refuting claims made in a political campaign. Without specifically mentioning Bachmann, the group says that claims of the HPV vaccine causing mental retardation have “absolutely no scientific validity”:
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.
To help clarify the issue, here are a few facts about HPV and the HPV vaccine, taken from the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control:
· Human Papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the US. Approximately 20 million Americans (both men and women) are currently infected with HPV. Another 6 million people become newly infected each year. At least 50% of sexual active people will have genital HPV at some point in their lives.
· HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact. HPV can be passed on between straight and same-sex partners—even when the infected partner has no signs or symptoms.
· Most infected persons do not realize they are infected or that they are passing the virus on to a sex partner.
· Most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from it. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years.
· Each year, about 12,000 women get cervical cancer in the U.S. Almost all of these cancers are HPV-associated.
· Other less common HPV-associated cancers can include vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal, and oropharyngeal (back-of-the-throat).
· Ideally females should get the vaccine before they become sexually active and exposed to HPV. Females who are sexually active may also benefit from the vaccine, but they may get less benefit from it.
· Both vaccines have been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for females aged 9 through 26 years and approved by CDC as safe and effective. Both vaccines were studied in thousands of people around the world and vaccine safety continues to be monitored by CDC and the FDA. These studies showed no serious safety concerns.