Bachmann Comments Spark HPV ‘Retardation’ Debate

ABC News’ Carrie Gann reports:

Republican presidential hopeful Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., made HPV vaccinations a sticking point in Monday night’s Republican presidential debate.

Bachmann slammed Gov. Rick Perry for his 2007 executive order mandating that all sixth-grade Texas girls be required to get vaccinations against the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus linked to cervical cancer. Bachmann said Perry’s mandate was a “government injection through executive order” and a “violation of a liberty interest.”

She charged that Perry’s order also endangered young girls who might experience negative side effects to the vaccine.

Bachmann’s statements elicited a statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):

“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… This is a life-saving vaccine that can protect girls from cervical cancer.”

Perry said his 2007 order was “a mistake,” as he did earlier this year. But he also defended his decision, saying that it was an attempt to protect young women against cervical cancer. “I am always going to err on the side of life,” Perry said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV.

The Texas legislature voted to override Perry’s order, and the law was never enacted.

Dr. Jacques Moritz, director of gynecology at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, said politicians aren’t the only ones debating mandatory HPV vaccination. Although the vaccine is “perfectly safe,” he said, public health officials remain undecided about the wisdom of requiring young people to get the vaccines.

“These vaccines are extremely expensive, and they do not prevent people from getting cervical cancer or protect against all strains of the virus,” Moritz said. “And I think parents need to know that and make the decision to get the vaccine from there.”

Dr. Kevin Ault, associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University in Atlanta, noted that states already mandate vaccines for a number of other viruses, but that HPV’s status as a sexually transmitted disease makes giving the vaccine to young girls even more controversial.

“I think people should get the HPV vaccination because it’s a good idea,” Ault said.

Ault has been an investigator on vaccine trials involving Merck’s HPV vaccine Gardasil.