A Texas-Sized Blunder

When Texas Governor and current republican presidential candidate Rick Perry released an executive order that required 6th grade girls to be vaccinated against the Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, he could have hardly predicted the long term consequences its issuance would cause.

Those consequences would be remarks decrying the order made by Republican presidential hopefuls, especially Michele Bachmann. She attacked the executive order in particular because of the supposed “negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug” girls would receive in being vaccinated. “There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate,” Bachmann said in a Fox interview on September 13th, as reported in a National Politifact article. “She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine. There are very dangerous consequences.”

The executive order was issued in 2007, and required Texas girls to be vaccinated against HPV before they enter the 6th grade. HPV can cause cervical cancer in women. On the same day as Bachmann’s claim on Fox, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that “since the [HPV] vaccine was introduced, more than 35 million doses have been administered, and it has an excellent safety record.” The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have meticulously tracked this drug’s effect on the population. The FDA’s analysis of the drug described the drug as “safe and effective,” noting that in 23 million doses, only 32 deaths were reported, most of which are attributed to other causes.

Perry’s order was opposed by the state legislature of Texas, and didn’t go into effect. Bachmann apparently sought to bill it as evidence that Perry wouldn’t act in the best interests of the people, especially concerning their health. What her remarks show instead is her willingness to use unverifiable sources to malign an opponent (the anonymous woman she cited for Fox has never been identified).

One could speculate on the possibility of a link between these statements and the MMR-autism connection scare of the last decade. Certainly, tapping into the protective instincts of parents for an attack upon Perry could have ruined his nomination bid by destroying his credibility with the pro-life bloc. This would be an especially ironic twist, considering that Perry justified the bill by declaring “I am always going to err on the side of life.” Knocking out Perry would have put Bachmann in a situation where she could bill herself as the top social conservative. This would help her face down other front-running contenders, such as Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, who would have to focus on their economic records.

Whichever explanation you make for Bachmann’s comments, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Bachmann’s comments were either the product of dishonesty or ignorance, not of justified concern for the safety of preteen Texan girls. The MMR vaccine scare wasn’t debunked in the public’s eye for over 10 years; it is perhaps fortunate that so little attention was paid to Michele Bachmann’s comments.