Political debates are largely ridiculous. Most assertions, on both sides, are exaggerated, the proper context is rarely considered, and to a degree, everyone is lying. Some more than others. Arguing a point with someone on the opposite side of an ideology is nonsensical, unless the other person is willing to sit down and look at both sides of the issue with an open mind, in a reasonable and measured fashion. When was the last time that happened?
So for the most part, I don’t comment publicly about political discourse. However, after reading about and listening to Minnesota GOP presidential candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann’s statements about the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV), I felt the need to express my thoughts about Rep. Bachmann.
Namely that her comments were scare-mongering, dangerous, moronic, and misinformed.
During a debate on September 13 between Republican presidential contenders, Ms. Bachmann called the HPV vaccine a “potentially very dangerous drug,” and insinuated that it could cause mental retardation. These claims are completely unsubstantiated.
Let’s look at some facts.
- HPV, the virus that causes genital warts, is primarily a sexually transmitted virus. It is passed on through skin-to-skin contact, including vaginal, anal and oral sex. At least 50% of sexually active individuals will have HPV at some point in their lives. There is no cure for HPV (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2011).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is thought to be responsible for:
- Nearly 100% of all cervical cancers.
- 90% of anal cancers.
- 65% of vaginal cancers.
- 50% of vulvar cancers.
- 35% of penile cancers.
- 60% of oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back of the throat, tongue and tonsils).
- There are two HPV vaccines licensed by the FDA, Gardasil (manufactured by Merck) and Cervarix (manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline). Of the 35 million doses of Gardasil administered as of June 2011, there have been 1,498 (.004%) reports of serious adverse events, none of which were directly attributed to the vaccine (CDC, 2011).
- The CDC and American Society of Pediatrics recommend that girls receive the vaccine at age 11 or 12, before being exposed to HPV. The vaccine is being recommended for boys as well due to soaring rates of oral cancers caused by HPV.
The point being debated Tuesday was not necessarily about the vaccine itself, but whether or not it was appropriate for the state of Texas to mandate administration of the vaccine. I understand the concerns on both sides of that argument, and during a debate could have articulated one side or the other without calling into question the validity or safety of the vaccine itself. By peppering her remarks with highly-charged rhetoric like “innocent 12 year-old girls” being required to get a “government injection,” she is doing an incredible disservice to those innocent 12 year-old girls she says she wants to protect.
Ms. Bachmann is implying that a 12 year-old girl does not need to be vaccinated against HPV because she is “innocent.” Actually that is the optimal time for the vaccine, before there is a chance she’s already been infected with the virus. Though Ms. Bachmann did not say it outright, her tone suggests, as some other groups have, that somehow being vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease is an invitation to promiscuity. I have yet to see any data backing this correlation.
Additionally, as a parent, you only have so much control over whether or not your teenager is sexually active. You can preach, educate, moralize, threaten, supervise, and hope as much you want, but all of that does not work against the biggest factor of all.
Kids make stupid decisions.
Ask any middle school teacher. As a parent, I will expect and promote abstinence for my boys. As a realist, I will have them vaccinated against HPV (and, though off-topic, teach them about birth control and safer sex), because I don’t want them to have to deal with preventable, potentially life-threatening, consequences from one idiotic and immature choice.
© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011