This is a prime example of how religion, and its willful ignorance of facts in favor of faith, can be deadly. In Monday’s debate between Republican presidential candidates, Michele Bachmann laid into Texas governor Rick Perry’s order that female students in Texas be vaccinated against the HPV virus, which causes cervical cancer. The New York Times blog, the Caucus, reports:
In Monday night’s debate, Mrs. Bachmann seized on an executive order that Mr. Perry issued requiring sixth-grade girls in Texas to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, criticizing him for an overreach of state power in a decision properly left to parents.
On Tuesday she expanded her criticism, suggesting that Mr. Perry had potentially put young girls at risk by forcing “an injection of what could potentially be a very dangerous drug.’’
Mrs. Bachmann said on NBC’s “Today” show on Tuesday that after Monday night’s debate in Tampa, Fla., a tearful mother approached her and said her daughter had suffered “mental retardation” after being vaccinated against HPV. “It can have very dangerous side effects,’’ Mrs. Bachmann said.
Bachmann is wrong. The HPV vaccine is one of the safest vaccines around, and it saves lives—many of them. Its safety is discussed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
HPV vaccines were studied in thousands of people in many countries around the world, including the United States. These studies found that both HPV vaccines were safe and cause no serious side effects. The most common adverse event was injection site pain, redness and swelling. This reaction was common but mild. More than 35 million doses of HPV vaccine have been distributed in the United States as of June, 2011. Almost all doses distributed have been Gardasil.
Wikipedia adds a bit more:
As of 1 September 2009, there have been 44 U.S. reports of death among females who have received the vaccine. None of the 27 confirmed deaths of women and girls who had taken the vaccine were linked to the vaccine.
Its efficacy (from the CDC):
The main efficacy studies of the quadrivalent vaccine were conducted in young women and men (16 through 26 years of age). Among persons not previously exposed to a targeted HPV type, the trials demonstrated nearly 100% vaccine efficacy in preventing cervical precancers, vulvar and vaginal precancers, and genital warts in women caused by the four vaccine types, as well as 90% vaccine efficacy in preventing genital warts and 75% vaccine efficacy in preventing anal precancers in men.
Although mandatory vaccination (recommended for girls aged 11 and 12, and given in three doses) is required only in the District of Columbia and Virginia, given its safety and efficacy, Gardasil or a similar vaccine should be required everywhere. And what about the “manadatory” part. Bachmann said this:
To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong. That should never be done. That’s a violation of a liberty interest.
“Well, I’m offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn’t have a choice,” replied Bachmann. “That’s what I’m offended for.”
But, of course, we all know that vaccinations are already required for school in many states. The CDC notes:
Each state has immunization requirements, sometimes called “school laws,” that must be met before a child may enter school. These may include vaccination against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus (lockjaw), Haemophilus influenzae type b, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, and hepatitis B. Some states have added varicella (chicken pox) vaccination to the list of required vaccines. Smallpox vaccination was once required, but the disease has been so successfully eradicated that this vaccination is no longer needed.
These days, sexual activity of young people is something one can reasonably expect. One can make a good case that HPV vaccines should also be required—at the very least, offered—in a similar fashion.
So what’s the problem? Religion, I suspect, and its attendant disapproval of sex among unmarried young people. It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating: people like Bachmann spread their lies for one reason alone. It’s not that they oppose government injections: those already exist, and Bachmann hasn’t said a word about diphtheria. No, it’s the fact that HPV is a disease transmitted through sexual contact, and people like Bachmann would prefer to have women die from cancer than to have safe sex.