Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann recently caught the attention of a lot of people when, during a television interview following a Presidential debate, she claimed that the HPV vaccine has “very significant consequences.” Bachmann supported her claim by citing the anecdotal case of a woman who had told her that her daughter “suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine.” A clip of Bachmann’s comments can be heard here.
Those comments were met with an immediate response from two bioethicists—and from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Steven Miles, MD, Professor of Medicine and Bioethics at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis offered $1000 for some proof that the HPV vaccination had caused mental illness. In an interview with National Public Radio, Dr Miles commented: “This controversy over the HPV vaccine is about the sexual politics in the United States . . . it’s not about the medicine.”
Asked whether the statement was a stunt, Dr Miles responded: “It’s not a stunt. The stunt, if any, is making a public health announcement of serious importance that can affect a huge vaccination campaign using unvetted information that was casually acquired from a stranger. We don’t make public health policy that way. What happened here was yelling fire in a crowded theater and what I’m trying to do is to restore credibility to the medical facts surrounding this vaccine.”
Arthur Caplan, PhD, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, put up $10,000 if Bachmann could “produce her victim” within 1 week. He offered to donate the $10,000 to a pro-vaccine group if she couldn’t; he would pay the $10,000 to a charity of her choice if she could.
O. Marion Burton, MD, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, also released this statement: (http://www.aap.org/advocacy/releases/hpv2011.pdf)
“The American Academy of Pediatrics would like to correct false statements made in the Republican presidential campaign that HPV vaccine is dangerous and can cause mental retardation. There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement. Since the vaccine has been introduced, more than 35 million doses have been administered, and it has an excellent safety record.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend that girls receive HPV vaccine around age 11 or 12. That’s because this is the age at which the vaccine produces the best immune response in the body, and because it’s important to protect girls well before the onset of sexual activity. In the US, about 6 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year, and 4000 women die of cervical cancer. This is a lifesaving vaccine that can protect girls from cervical cancer.”
We invite you to share your views with other pediatricians about whether unsubstantiated medical claims by public figures have an impact on the general public. How would you respond to the statement that the HPV vaccine has very significant consequences? What will you tell your patients if they ask about this vaccine’s safety?
Please share your views by commenting below.
For more information
•Hensley S. Bioethicists offer reward for proof on HPV vaccine claim. September 15, 2011. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/09/15/140496422/bioethicists-offer-reward-for-proof-on-hpv-vaccine-claim.
•Gabriel T. Bachmann finds an issue with HPV debate. New York Times. September 13, 2011.