You don't have to be a Democrat to be annoyed by Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann this week. You just have to be a caring parent. The Minnesota Congresswoman claimed on national television after the Tea Party Express sponsored debate that the HPV vaccine meant to prevent cervical cancer will cause mental retardation in young women.
If it made you clutch your teen daughter to your chest and scream, "Not my baby," you can let go now. It's a total crock of malarkey.
Bachmann was attacking Texas Governor Rick Perry for signing an executive order requiring all young women in his state receive the vaccine while simultaneously accepting donations from the immunization's maker, Merck. Fine. Good. We need to expose this sort of back-door dealing.
But she used a dangerous anecdote to prove her point the following morning on the Today show, claiming:
I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Florida, after the debate. She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter.
What parent in her right mind wouldn't hear "mental retardation" and think, "Oh no, not my kid"? It's natural to be frightened. We know what we put in our kid's lunch bag in the morning. We don't know what goes into a vaccine in a medical lab.
But part of being a parent is judging the risks. Deciding what's worse -- my kid ending up with cervical cancer or the possible side effects. And that's where parents on either side of the political coin should be angry with Michele Bachmann today. Her claim of this horrible side effect isn't just wrong -- it's irresponsibly so. She took an anecdote and treated it as fact.
Scientists at the Institutes of Medicine have reviewed the vaccine and reviewed adverse reactions reported by parents nationwide. They've come up with some -- albeit very rare -- cases of girls having problems more serious than mild fever or pain in the injection site. But mental retardation isn't on the list.
The same goes for lists maintained by the CDC and Federal Drug Administration. Neither has seen any connection between the HPV vaccine for American girls and mental retardation. In fact, the CDC says adverse side effects from this particular vaccine are even less than most other vaccines. An official statement from their Atlanta offices says, "Less than 7 percent reported adverse events were considered serious, about half of the average for vaccines overall." And the American Academy of Pediatrics says our daughters still need the vaccine because 6 million people contract HPV each year in the U.S., and 4,000 women die.
Michele Bachmann just terrified parents. For NOTHING. To make a political point, she gave out dangerous misinformation that could scare parents off of a vaccine that's been proven to save lives.
The whole debacle says a lot about the vaccine debate as a whole. There's too much misinformation out there, and parents are -- rightfully -- scared. But we need to pick and choose our sources wisely. Anecdotes are not sources.
I'll trust my pediatrician to tell me what to do with my kid and leave the uncovering of back-door deals to the politicians. How about you? Are you angry that Bachmann went beyond politics and into misinformation about vaccines?
Image via Today