Michele Bachmann And The HPV Vaccine Bounty

Michele Bachmann And The HPV Vaccine Bounty

September 16th, 2011 // 12:51 pm @

Now that the Minnesota congresswoman and Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has contended that the Merck Gardasil vaccine for combating HPV may have been responsible for mental retardation, she is encountering some pushback. This is not surprising, given that such comments feed into the ongoing controversy over vaccine safety, in general.

To date, there is no evidence that the Merck vaccine is connected with mental retardation. There have been a few dozen adverse event reports that mentioned death and are cited by vaccine critics as reason for regulators to rethink approval, but no definitive link was established. And the vaccine has largely been embraced by the medical community, since HPV can lead to cervical cancer.


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Bachmann raised the issue in hopes of making her rival candidate, Texas Governor Rick Perry, look like a Merck puppet. In early 2007, he bypassed the Texas legislature and signed an order making Texas the first state to require school-age girls to be vaccinated with Gardasil. And his former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, was one of three Merck lobbyists in Texas when he signed the order. But instead of focusing only on money and politics, she ventured into side effects. Consequently, Bachmann has become enmeshed in a heated debate in which she is now being accused of stoking unfounded fears.

The uproar has prompted a pair of bioethicists to separately offer a bounty, of sorts, for proof that an HPV vaccine – GlaxoSmithKline sells a rival product called Cervarix – has caused some form of brain damage. Steven Miles, a professor of medicine, at the University of Minnesota is offering a $1,000 for anyone who can provide a properly authorized release of medical info that would be reviewed by a qualified neurologist. “There’s a right way to handle important info about risks and benefits of vaccines,” he tells us, “and that includes a proper analysis of the data.”

And Art Caplan, who heads the Bioethics Center at the University of Pennsylvania, is willing to donate $10,000 to a charity chosen by Bachmann if she can produce a similar case. Caplan first Tweeted his offer: “so here is the deal Bachmann has one week starting today to produce her ‘victim’. she pays ten thousand to a provaccine group if she cant. I pay 10K to a charity of her choice if she does. we agree on a panel of vaccine experts to verify that ‘retardation’ her words was caused by HPV vaccine” (here is the original Tweet).

But why? “I am outraged that Bachmann has tried to use vaccine safety issues for political gain. At least 4,000 women die in the US and hundreds of thousands worldwide from cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine could prevent many of those deaths and the surgeries necessary to treat thousands of other women. Putting womens lives at risk based on hearsay and ignorance is morally wrong,” Caplan writes us, adding that the money will come from his own pocket, not the university.

“Moreover, the notion that you can gain political advantage by impugning vaccines is not something that I am willing to accept. So my offer to make sure she is held to account AND that all GOP candidates answer the question ‘What will they do to insure that every American child and adult can get ACIP/CDC recommended vaccines including HPV?’ It is time to speak up for vaccines and public health and hold to account those willing to tolerate death and impairment without any evidence that vaccines are the cause,” writes Caplan, who once consulted on a Data Safety Monitoring Board for a Glaxo prescription drug clinical trial.

Whether such offers will sway anyone to alter their views is unclear. Certainly, these are interesting, if not entirely novel, ways to focus further attention on the topic. And Bachmann may find it difficult to ignore this now that vaccine safety has become enmeshed in a presidential campaign. But the issue has proven to be very resilient topic for debate and even if Bachmann – or anyone else – fails to produce a brain-damaged victim, some will likely continue to worry about safety.

Source: Pharmalot

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