“I am not a doctor; I’m not a scientist; I’m not a physician,” said U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.
And the Republican presidential candidate should refrain from playing one on television. In criticizing Gov. Rick Perry’s attempt to require a vaccine for all young girls in Texas, Bachmann said the shots may have dangerous and permanent side effects. She told Fox News she got that information from a woman she met whose daughter “suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine.”
It's troubling that Bachmann believes this. There is no scientific evidence to back up such a claim about a vaccine for the human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer. Side effects are rare and usually minor. But more troubling is that she repeated on national television what an unidentified woman told her about the vaccine. She presented it as true.
Bachmann is gaining a reputation as someone who either ignores facts, doesn’t know them or doesn’t know how to sort fact from fiction. Untruths about the Founding Fathers working tirelessly to end slavery or confusing actor John Wayne with a serial killer are one thing. They only make her look uninformed and damage her credibility.
But her statement about the HPV vaccine risks harm to public health. It adds fuel to an existing anti-vaccine campaign that has no basis in facts.
Several years ago a study connected autism to childhood vaccinations. The study was debunked, but the damage had already been done. Some parents bought into it, despite cautions from medical experts, and decided not to vaccinate their children. That has contributed to a measles epidemic in England and whooping cough outbreak in California.
Such communicable diseases endanger lives. Vaccines prevent those diseases from spreading and save lives. Throughout history, immunizations have eradicated deadly and crippling diseases such as polio and small pox. When people such as Bachmann make irresponsible statements that encourage people not to vaccinate their children, the fight against communicable diseases suffers a setback.
Bachmann didn’t have to make such a claim. There are plenty of valid arguments against Perry’s requirement that Texas girls be vaccinated. The governor used an executive order to implement the requirement, defying the will of the Texas Legislature. The vaccine should not be required by the state because HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, not one children can catch from each other on the playground. There are questions about campaign contributions made by the drug manufacturer to Perry, which may have influenced his action.
Those are legitimate reasons to take issue with the Texas governor. That one mother thinks the vaccine causes a mental disability is not a legitimate reason.
Not only is there no scientific evidence to support what Bachmann said, it makes one wonder if she believes everything she hears without stopping first to check the facts.
The president of the United States can put us into a war or send the world’s markets reeling with poorly chosen words. Bachmann’s performance in the HPV controversy does not instill confidence in her judgment.