American Elephants

Debates, Demagoguery and Democracy. by The Elephant's Child

Michelle Bachman ignited a firestorm in the Republican debate this last week.  In 2007, Texas governor Rick Perry issued an executive order requiring sixth-grade girls be vaccinated against the Human papillomavirus (HPV), the cause of cervical cancer and of many other genital cancers in both men and women.  Michelle Bachman claimed that “to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat-out-wrong” and “a violation of a liberty interest.”

Rick Perry has said in the past that he should not have done this with an executive order, but that he really hates cancer.  There was opportunity for parents who objected to opt out. Bachman saw an opportunity to go after the front-runner, and not only overdid it, but pretty much ruined her campaign.

Bachman went on to accuse Gov. Perry of being a tool of Merck Pharmaceuticals, because he had received a political donation from Merck.  Perry responded that the donation he had received from Merck was for $5,000 and if she was suggesting that he was for sale for $5,000 — he was offended.  The Media, scenting some hot dissent, invited Bachman on assorted shows. She made the rounds of the talk shows claiming that after the debate she was approached by a woman in tears who told her that when her 12-year-old daughter received the Guardasil vaccination she became retarded.

We have a national problem with irresponsible people scaring the poorly informed about vaccines. The complaints about the Food and Drug Administration are usually about how long it takes to get a drug approved.  They may be slow, but they do take care.

Let’s deal with some plain ordinary facts. According to the Center for Disease Control, a study that covered 83% of the U.S. population estimated that about 24,900 HPV-associated cancers occur each year.  More than 17,300 HPV-associated cancers occur yearly in women and almost 7,600 occur yearly in men.  These numbers may under-represent the actual number of cancers diagnosed during this time period.  Not everyone who gets the virus gets cancer, but there is no way to get rid of the virus.

The vaccines are mostly effective (not perfect) but definitely don’t cause retardation, which is caused by a birth defect — not acquired suddenly at age 12. Whooping-cough is making a return because of scared parents refusing vaccinations for their children.  California reported the highest number of cases of whooping-cough in 55 years. Vaccinations don’t cause autism either. For those who have been alarmed, there is plenty of information  available at the Center for Disease Control website, or consult your doctor.

The Wall Street Journal wrote:

Opponents of mandatory vaccination include social conservatives who believe the vaccine will increase promiscuity, though we suspect watching MTV is a greater spur to teen sex. Opposition to state involvement in treatment decisions has more force: HPV is not casually communicable like polio or measles. Yet the executive order included a clause that allowed families to opt out for “reasons of conscience” or “to protect the right of parents to be the final authority on their children’s health care.” At a certain point, the distinction between “opt in” and “opt out” becomes academic when the violation of liberty is filling out minor paperwork.

The larger opportunity here is to eradicate a potentially terminal disease that has huge economic, social and other costs. Such progress is especially welcome when other government trends—the FDA’s cancer drug approvals, the eventual treatment restrictions inherent in national health care—are running in the opposite direction. …

The GOP critique of government in the age of Obama would be more credible if the party’s candidates did not equate trying to save lives with tyranny.



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