As the political season gets more animated, I have decided that I will throw some articles that are only involved in politics when I see the need. Vaccines are one topic that is in dire need of some discussion. So when the topic reared it’s ugly head recently, I decided that I would take my skeptic banner and enter a slightly different forum.
The main issue that has arisen is that Michele Bachmann has decided to attack the HPV vaccine. She is doing so as a purely political ploy against Rick Perry because he is leading in the polls. The problem is that what she in particular has said, is wrong on many levels.
Regardless of your particular views on Gov. Perry using an executive order to require the vaccine, the vaccine itself is a needed one. It is not on the same scale of something like the smallpox vaccine, but it is more comparable to the whooping cough vaccine in value to the public health. The proper name for whooping cough is Pertussis and it results in ~300,000 deaths per year. Most of those deaths could be prevented by the use of the DTP vaccine that has been available since the 1940’s.
The problem with the DTP and all vaccines, is that there are some people who have a bad response to the vaccine. DTP is one of these vaccines that has garnered controversy as a health risk. The unfortunate problem with all vaccines is that it is a numbers game. Some small percentage of the population (typically < 0.001%) will have an adverse reaction of some sort that will cause problems and even death. The problem is, that without the vaccine, far more people will die. Here is an old article from 1986 that dives into the details of the DTP vaccine. The quick summary is this:
Japan: 1972-1974 1,024 cases of whooping cough, 6 deaths.
Japan: 1977-1979, 28,000 cases of whooping cough, 93 deaths.
The increase is directly related to the fear about the vaccine when two children died from an adverse reaction. So two deaths resulted in enough fear that people stopped vaccinating their children and the death rate increased 15.5x.
Vaccines are one place where the public good is served by ensuring a high (>95%) vaccination rate.
The HPV vaccine prevents a virus that that causes cervical cancer and other cancers to a lesser extent. It is the first vaccine that has been shown to reduce a type of cancer, but likely not the first. In 2002 it is estimated that that the ~470,000 new cases of cancer were caused by the HP virus which resulted in ~233,000 deaths. The HPV vaccine is the most effective way of reducing this form of cancer. Greatly reducing the 5th leading cause of cancer death among women seems like a worthwhile endeavour.
The only way to combat viruses is to have a large percentage of the population vaccinated. For the HPV vaccine, this requires the vaccine be given before sexual activity starts. Vaccines save lives. The HPV vaccine has the potential to save lives and Michele Bachmann is hurting the HPV vaccine by attacking its usage. Here is her quote from the most recent debate:
“To have innocent little 12 year old girls be forced to have a government injection through and executive order is just flat out wrong.”
I would like to point out that her home state of Minnesota has requirements for vaccines in order to attend child care, school and college. For someone who has raised 20+ children she should know that in many cases vaccines are required for the public good and they should be. Regardless of how that requirement was implemented, it was done for the good of the children that get the vaccine.
The HPV vaccine is new and like most new vaccines it will take time for it to be widely used. To come out and use such language about a vaccine that could save hundreds of thousands of lives a year is totally unacceptable. To do so only to gain political points is an atrocity. Hundreds of thousands of lives are lost each year to the cancer that this virus causes. Since the vaccine is worthless when given later, it must be administered early for it to be effective.
I support science in all aspects. In this case Michele Bachmann is clearly in the wrong from the scientific perspective. Her attack on vaccines is unacceptable on every level. She is further compounding her initial attack by focusing on the rare cases where someone did react badly to a vaccine. That type of behavior must be strongly condemned by all responsible members of society.
I have two daughters that are approaching the age when they need the HPV vaccine and they will be getting it. I understand that there is a risk of a bad reaction, but for their future health there is no question that it is the safer choice. Michele Bachmann and her attack on vaccines is reprehensible. She gets a failing grade for science and a failing grade for her utter lack of responsibility on this issue. It is one thing to argue the governmental procedure for requiring a vaccine, it is something else to attack vaccines. She has crossed the line on a public safety issue and she should be condemned for it.