Guy Benson

Yeah she did.  When I wrote about last night's heated Gardasil exchange earlier, I honed in on the body blows Michele Bachmann landed against Rick Perry regarding his mandatory HPV vaccination executive order (with was repealed by the Texas legislature before it ever went into effect).  She appealed to parental rights and raised questions about potential crony capitalism -- both legitimate issues.  Lost in the mix, though, was her fleeting suggestion that vaccines like Gardasil are "potentially dangerous."  Smelling Perry's political blood in the water, Bachmann doubled-down and expanded on this claim during a post-debate interview with Fox's Greta Van Susteren:
 


She repeated this story on the Today Show this morning.  Members of the medical community immediately jumped all over Bachmann for playing fast and loose with the facts, accusing of the Minnesota Congresswoman of engaging in "irresponsible" and baseless fear-mongering about vaccines.  Hoover Institution fellow, former FDA official, and medical doctor Henry Miller, writing at National Review, details how inaccurate and potentially insidious Bachmann's comments were:
 

Bachmann alluded to the Perry’s executive order mandating the exposure of young girls to a “dangerous” vaccine and tried to distinguish Gardasil from other required pediatric vaccines that prevent infectious diseases. Note to Bachmann: The vaccine, Merck’s Gardasil, prevents infection with the most common strains of human papilloma virus. Once established, these viruses can ultimately cause genital warts as well as cervical, anal, vulvar, and vaginal cancers. Thus, by preventing the infection, the vaccine prevents all those sequelae.

In the extensive clinical studies (on more than 20,000 girls and women) that were performed prior to the FDA’s licensing of the vaccine, the vaccine was 100 per cent effective, a virtually unprecedented result. How safe is the vaccine? No serious side effects were detected; the most common side effect is soreness, redness and swelling in the arm at the site of the injection.  In summary, Gardasil has one of the most favorable risk-benefit ratios of any pharmaceutical.


Granted, just because a vaccine that prevents sexually-transmitted diseases and forms of cancer happens to be 100 percent effective and remarkably safe does not necessarily mean the government should mandate its use among young girls.  (Although it's worth pointing out that Bachmann's home state requires students to be immunized against Hepatitis B, which can be spread through sexual contact).  As she is sometimes inclined to do, Bachmann took her argument a step further by intimating -- first implicitly, then more explicitly -- that Gardasil and other vaccines could actually be hazardous to recipients' health.  Of course virtually any medical procedure, drug, or vaccine carries with it at least some limited risks and side-effects -- but Bachmann didn't stop there.  Her repetition of a long-debunked urban legend linking mental retardation with vaccines was particularly reckless. 

Bachmann's defenders will argue that she was simply relaying an anecdote she heard from someone else.  If that's the case, she should have been responsible enough to check the facts, or she should have kept her mouth shut.  Instead, she repeated it on national television.  Twice.  Over to you, Dr. Miller:  "Here’s my advice to the presidential hopefuls: If you’re not sure of the facts, keep quiet."  Amen.  Liberals already make a sport out of (often cynically and selectively) branding conservatives as "anti-science."  This episode doesn't help matters.  In fact, it was all too much for Rush Limbaugh, who declared that Bachmann had "jumped the shark."

By the way, Perry doesn't get off scot free here, either.  It turns out he was being a bit sloppy with the truth himself when he deflected Bachmann's patronage allegation by asserting that he'd only received $5,000 in campaign donations from Gardasil's manufacturer.  The Washington Post reports that the figure was actually substantially higher:
 

But campaign disclosure records portray a much deeper financial connection with Merck than Perry’s remarks would suggest. Perry’s gubernatorial campaign, for example, received nearly $30,000 from the drugmaker since 2000, most of it prior to his decision in 2007 to order young girls to obtain Merck’s vaccine against the human papillomavirus, or HPV.  Merck has also given more than $355,000 in donations to the Republican Governors Association since 2006, which was the year that Perry began to play a prominent role in the Washington-based group, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.


The RGA statistic is a yawner for me, and as Ed Morrissey points out, $30,000 wasn't even enough for Merck to break into Perry's top 200 donors during that period.  So I don't see much "there there," as they say.  Nonetheless, Perry understated his financial ties to Merck by an order of magnitude, and therefore deserves the call-out.  In the realm of big-picture relevancy, this controversy is a gigantic non-issue.  Nevertheless, it subjected the Republican frontrunner to a string of effective attacks, and triggered the self-inflicted implosion of another major candidate.  That's newsworthy, plain and simple.  It also reminds us of Mitt Romney's inner-monologue throughout this whole melee.


UPDATE - A Townhall reader (and MD) writes in:
 

[Gardasil] is a standard pediatric vaccine that will protect women from developing cervical cancer for life. Gov. Perry was right to encourage parents to vaccinate their girls. I wonder how many women will die of cervical cancer because of the confusion Ms. Bachmann has introduced.  Shame on her!


Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

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