Friday, September 16, 2011

Do ANY Vaccines Cause Mental Retardation?
Of Course, Michele Bachmann is wrong (AGAIN)

But What Does The Science Actually Say About Sex, Vaccinations, and Neurological Damage?

Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV) will affect 1 in 2 Americans in their lifetime, both men and women.  Public health has moved from detection to prevention in their focus on this potential killer.  Detection and treatment has reduced cervial cancer dramatically as the leading killer of women.  Medical science is now attempting to prevent it rather than just treat it after it occurs. this is significant beacuse HPV is associated with a variety of cancers.  

I'm an unapologetic biosciences geek.  I'm also a critic of right wing scare tactics, and particularly a critic of the many and chronic inaccuracies of Michele Bachmann.

The uproar over the crack-pot anti-vaccine position that Bachmann has taken, where she wrongly asserts that vaccines are dangerous only underlines not only Bachmann's lack of scientific or medical knowledge - and her aversion to learning anything about it - but also a larger lack of facts to form a context.

First of all, I looked at the question of how plausible it was that we should be concerned about vaccines, not just the HPV vaccine, but ANY vaccination causing sudden mental retardation in children who are adolescents.  Vaccines in rare - VERY VERY RARE instances can cause damage, including brain damage. rare is rare?  According to a CBS News article which tracks with anything I can find from the World Health Organization, the CDC, or any other reputable organization that tracks such data, the numbers look like this:
"Vaccines have saved untold millions of lives, and the vast majority of people who get them suffer no major problems.

But there's a trade-off: occasionally, vaccines cause injury or death. Very rarely, patients are left with what's known as "encephalopathy", the medical term for brain damage.

In fact, CBS News has found nearly 1,300 cases in which vaccine-related brain damage has been compensated in court over the past 20 years."
That is, on average, approximately 65 cases a year out of the millions of vaccinations given to people of all ages that result in some degree of brain damage complications.  That is an incredibly rare occurrence, given the number of vaccines administered.

What has not been mentioned adequately in the media hype and hysteria over Bachmann's bogus claim about the HPV virus was that there has been research into vaccination to prevent mental retardation, a vaccine that is proposed, like the HPV vaccine, for administration to adolescent girls. From the Lancet, the Journal of Medicine in the UK (bolding, last line is my emphasis - DG):

Department of Medical Microbiology, St. George's Hospital Medical School, London SW1X 7EZ, United Kingdon

Available online 26 September 2003.


Cytomegalovirus infection in utero is an important cause of mental retardation. A live tissue-culture-adapted strain of the virus was tested in volunteers. The subcutaneous route of inoculation was successful in stimulating neutralising and complement-fixing antibody production without important side-effects. It is suggested that the use of such a vaccine in adolescent girls would reduce the incidence of primary cytomegalovirus infection in pregnancy and thus eliminate fetal brain damage due to this cause.
We have a general uproar on the right over candidate Governor Perry having used an executive order to cause widespread vaccination of young girls against cervical cancer from the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). This was an excellent decision, one of the few for which Perry should be commended, even if it appears he issued the executive order as part of a corrupt deal to gain campaign contributions from the Pharmaceutical firms involved in manufacturing the vaccine, both direct and indirect, which benefited him personally. A smarter move would be for Perry to issue an executive order requiring boys in the same age range to be vaccinated as well, not just the girls in Texas. HPV is not only linked to cervical cancers but also to cancers of the mouth and throat. An article in the February 21, 2011 edition of the UK paper, the Daily Mail, claimed:
Revealed: Oral sex is ‘bigger cause of throat cancer than tobacco’By Daily Mail Reporter Last updated at 11:03 AM on 21st February 2011 Comments (205) Add to My Stories Share A virus spread during oral sex is now the main cause of throat cancer in people under 50, scientists have warned. They say the human papilloma virus spread during unprotected sex is to blame for a disturbing rise in potentially deadly oral cancers in the last few decades. Doctors have called for boys to be vaccinated against HPV just like teenage girls to stop the spread of the disease. Read more:

The ultra conservative right has demonstrated a stunning capacity to get things wrong, and never more so than on the subject of sex.  Cervical cancer is a terrible disease, and was the leading cause of death for women in the United States for many years, according to this CDC site.  While medical check ups, such as annual pap tests, have decreased cervical cancer as the leading cause of death for women, it remains a serious health problem for the female population, including HPV associated cancers.
Again, from the CDC:
HPV-Associated Cervical Cancer Rates by Race and Ethnicity

It is estimated that about 10,800 new cases of HPV-associated cervical cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year.* More black and Hispanic women get cervical cancer and are diagnosed at later stages of the disease than women of other races or ethnicities, possibly because of decreased access to Pap testing or follow-up treatment.

*These numbers are based on a large study that covered 83% of the U.S. population during 1998–2003, and may under-represent the actual number of cancers diagnosed during this time period. Also, this study used cancer registry data to estimate the amount of potentially HPV-associated cancer in the United States by examining cancer in parts of the body and cancer cell types that are more likely to be caused by HPV. Cancer registries do not collect data on the presence or absence of HPV in cancer tissue at the time of diagnosis. However, nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV.
The right wing fuss over vaccinations appears to be a concern that if women aren't at risk for cervical cancer, starting in adolescence, they will somehow suddenly become uncontrollably sexually active. 

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Rick Perry's HPV Vaccine Mandate
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive
Nobody makes the idiocy of this premise clear better than Stephen Colbert. The reality is that depending on which statistics one uses, about half of all students in grades 9-12 are sexually active. An example would be the report from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation "U.S. Teen Sexual Activitiy" and the Guttmacher Institute's "Facts on American Teens' Sexual and Reproductive Health. Whether women and girls make the decision to have sex within the monogamous confines of marriage exclusively, or not, sexual activity begins occurring as early as adolescence, and the probability of that activity only grows with each year of age. The notion that simply denying a safe vaccination to ensure some sort of usually religiously motivated sense of purity, that religion should prevent reasonable, safe reproductive health care is bad. It is wrong. It is insane. It is criminally ignorant. It is mysogyny. And too often, that combination of ideology, ignorance and religion is fatal to women.


  1. THANK YOU for this post ... the good outcome of Ms. Bachmann's comment (attributed to some unknown Mother) is that it has brought attention to the subject. Hopefully more people will do as you did, and publicize the risk to males and encourage more vaccinations.

    BTW, did you see Ron Carey on Anderson Cooper's 360 program the other evening?

    Ron Carey was the Chairman of the MN-GOP and for a short time a well-paid Chief of Staff for Ms. Bachmann.

    Mr. Carey said :
    Well, Michele is very impulsive from a personality standpoint and, to her credit, she reads an awful lot of information, but sometimes I’m afraid that she reads maybe 80 or 90 percent and leaves out or forgets the ten or 20 percent that can change the outcome, so her impulsive nature coupled with the fact that she sometimes doesn’t digest information as carefully as she should leads to these kinds of impulsive statements that sometimes are just off the mark enough that it makes her into more of a provocative, controversial figure.

    This episode should remind Minnesotans of Ms. Bachmann's warning that she had information concerning the future of Iraq ... and her knowledge of Iran’s plans that “half of Iraq, the western, northern portion of Iraq, is going to be called the Iraq State of Islam".

    While it is commendable that Ms. Bachmann reads an awful lot of information, the concern should be : Is the information that she is reading factual ... where is the questioning ?

    Ms. Bachmann's campaign for the Presidency should cause more of her constituents to ask if she truly is the voice they want in Congress .... even if the district will be drawn favorably for the Republican Party, the Republicans have a deep bench and they should encourage someone to run in a primary against her ... remember just as Mark Dayton won the primary with the help of cross-over GOP voters, there is no reason that concerned citizens should not engage in a Republican primary contest.

  2. Well I can tell you from seeing the local news about this at the time it happened one of the main reasons Perry did his executive order was because the state board of insurance advised him that insurance companies would not pay for the vaccine if it was not mandantory. Since this vaccine is fairly expensive (if I remember $300 a shot and take 3 shots spread out) none of the low income families would get the vaccine. Now he did get $30k from the company or one of their stockholders but that was over a period of a few yrs and he raised over 30 million so that amounts to about .1%, not a huge piece of his campaign coffer.

  3. Tuck, you should know the stats on Perry better than that; you live in his state. There was a lot more pay to play money in the game than that.

    "But then the name Mike Toomey came up. Toomey had been Perry's chief of staff and was one of his closest political allies.

    "It came out pretty quick that Toomey had been paid several hundred thousand dollars to lobby for Merck, and as soon as we heard that, it was like, 'OK, now we know what's going on,' " Dunnam says.

    Toomey's career is emblematic of the revolving door between business and the Texas government. Toomey was elected to the Texas House, left government to become a lobbyist, took a job as Perry's chief of staff, then left the governor's office to lobby for the drug company Merck."


    "It emerged that Merck's political action committee had donated $5,000 to the governor's campaign at the same moment their executives were negotiating with the governor's staff. Merck would eventually donate nearly $30,000 to Perry and more than $377,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which Perry chaired."

    The Republican Governors Association apparently funneled a lot of that money to Perry's campaign, and the rest was reputedly disbursed as Perry influence. So, between the direct funding of his campaign, the lobbying aka pay to play, and the indirect (that we know of, it wouldn't surprise me if more comes out) there was quite a lot of money being paid to Perry.

    Bachmann got the accusation of crony capitalism right from what I've read.

    I hope you and your family and friends have been safe from the fires in your state, Tuck. Doubly so given some of the attitudes about federal disaster money in your state, and the fact that while Perry is subsidizing NASCAR deals to his buddies, he is cutting the forestry budget, which includes fire fighting for those fires.

    Of course, the drought behind those fires that your state and other areas have been experiencing, are considered part of the signs of global warming and anthropogenic climate change - you know, the stuff that Perry and the other anti-science right deny in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    Your state doesn't seem to be in very good shape, despite some exceptional resources.

  4. What I find missing in the discussion of how dumb Bachmann was to say what she did (and she was) is the notion that innocent 11 and 12 year old girls are going to smoehow become less innocent by having a vaccination. Like how it is that traditional marriage is harmed by allowing marriage equality for gays, I'd love to hear the explanation for how a vaccine harms the "innocence" of girls (it doesn't). So, now that we have effectively ruled out the inaccurate fear mongering of mental retardation.......what else about this are we supposed to be afraid of - according to the freak fringe right?

    This is a communicable disease, one which has a high rate of contagion.

    While it is true that HPV IS transmitted sexually, it is also transmitted non-sexually, through skin to skin contact.

    The ONLY way that there can be effective prevention is if the use of vaccination is widespread; the better the coverage of the Vx, the better the reduction of the contagion.

    As to the executive order, if this was so important, why did the legislature present Perry with a veto-proof reversal?

    And as to the expense calculation - $300 is a whole lot cheaper for the state of Texas, directly and indirectly, than detection and treatment of the HPV associated cancers.

    I'd like to know why it was that Perry didn't include some kind of negotiation for a deal, some kind of price break, in mandating the Gardasil Vx......just one more indication of capitalist cronyism.

    Not that Bachmann is in a position to point the finger of blame at anyone; she's not innocent of pay to play either. She ran the most expensive race for congress in the country last time around, and the overwhelming majority of her contributors were from outside of MN - and they were NOT all small donors either.

  5. From

    "Transmission most often occurs from another person. It is possible for a person to infect themselves, although this is thought to be a rare method of transmission."


    "Genital HPV is not always spread through penetrating sex. Some studies have shown that in female virgins, HPV may be spread through nonpenetrating sexual contact."

    (I would refer readers to the sexual practices of the 'promise ring / purity' technical virgins.)


    "Although using a condom is a good idea to prevent transmission of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), condoms may not protect sexual partners from genital HPV transmission and infection."

  6. Not that students in Texas are allowed to learn about contraception, in abstinence only sex ed.

  7. Tuck,
    Being in Texas, you may have more insight than the rest of us.
    I recall when Governor Perry issued Executive Order 65 as my bride and I discussed the debate at that time as whether the Government should Lead in promoting health … she and I agreed that it should and thought that Governor Perry’s edict was appropriate.
    I also recall the backlash …. At the time there were over 20 states that were considering similar legislation but then the religious advocacy groups such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council opposed mandating the vaccine, citing a parent's right to choose … the result was the passage of HB 1098 (that effectively delayed the implementation of the EO65 for four years) which was approved by the TX Senate 30-1 after TX House passed it 118-23.
    It is my understanding that the cost was about $360 for all three shots however government negotiators could get the “volume discount” to lower the price to under $300. Virginia enacted the mandate with a parental opt-out … New Hampshire has subsidized the vaccine for free on a voluntary basis … most interesting is that Washington DC required it which is interesting since Congress controls DC purse strings … and Republicans authored a law to deny funding to states ( HR 1153 is notable since Michele Bachmann (R-MN-06) did not become a co-sponsor but John Kline (R-MN-02) did).
    Perry may be claiming that he was trying to do something to protect “life” … and if that is true then he should have Led the legislature in some sort of “opt-in” benefit ….
    This proves to me the power of the vocal minority who stopped this program due to government involvement … I could accept the argument on health concerns of a relatively new drug but not the objections raised by Ms. Bachmann and the “Family” groups.

    Mac Hall

  8. Mac, I would point out that it is that same vocal religious right minority that is the core of Perry's base. To go against them, it makes sense that someone would have had to offer him substantial compensation. I'm not aware of any other instance when he has gone against the extreme religious right in Texas. NEVER.

    He hasn't made any other decisions which reflect this claimed concern for the life and health of the citizens of Texas. Look at his track record; it is atrocious. His claim for doing this is not only hollow it is offensively hypocritical.

    It is time we stopped letting the religious right minority have the control over public policy that they have acquired. If they want to believe what they do, personally, that is their business. But when their beliefs put the rest of us at greater risk for the spread of disease, it is time we ALL stood up and told them NO. This should apply to abstinence only sex ed, to prohibitions about teaching contraception, to denying coverage of contraception in public health insurance, and frankly, to the interference with requiring medically inaccurate information being forced on women and their doctors relating to abortion.

    The right is all about smaller government, about opposing intrusive government - except when THEY do it.

    They are penny wise and pound foolish, they are anti-science, and they are WRONG. I'm sick of the wrong running the lives of the rest of us because they think they have some superior relationship to God that gives them the authority to do so.

    Vaccinations are safe, they work. So does contraception.

    I'd like to know why it is, given the contagion levels of HPV, and the associated cancers that occur from it, that we aren't mandating wider testing and wider vaccination - of ADULTS!

  9. Dog Gone,
    Good points, all
    ... for decades now the "Focus on the Family" groups have dominated the political discourse
    ... you see it in bumper stickers and you see it in GOP politics.
    We need to acknowledge their success and power ... look at the Iowa Supreme Court election results from November 2010 ... three justices were denied another term ... their public sin -- they determined that Iowa state laws involving gay marriage was unconstitutional ... that obviously upset Bob Vander Plaats and his Family Leader followers, but it's the private sin that was not acknowledged ... these judges also ruled in cases that affected corporations and not to the corporations wishes ... thus, corporations donated monies to help get them defeated --- you know the cliche, the enemy of my enemy is my friend .... look at how GW Bush used the religious right to get their votes and then did nothing for them (read David Kuo's book Tempting Faith : An Inside Account of Political Seduction).

    May I pose an unrelated yet close to the topic of Government involvement in Private Medical matters ?
    As more and more states enact laws requiring "information" be provided before an abortion and in Texas where they are considering legislation that would limit access to abortions by effectively requiring the construction of new facilities; so, what about vasectomy procedures ?
    Have you ever heard any mention of the need to "educate" males on the ramifications of the surgery ?
    Have you ever heard of a doctor refusing to perform the procedure ?

    I ask because of an old television show that may be before your time ... Marcus Welby, M.D. .... after 40 years its now available on DVD and since the library system had a copy which we decided to watch .... there was an episode in which a 33 year old man who had only been married for a short time asked Dr. Welby to schedule a vasectomy ... Dr. Welby refused telling the man that he should have children and asked if the wife approved this procedure ... it was rather remarkable as the "good doctor" was not providing medical advice but offering personal opinions ... I will bet that there are doctors out there today that would offer the same advice.
    (Oh, and in case you are wondering of the outcome, the reason that the man wanted to have a vasectomy was because his grandfather, who rescued him from Europe, died - twitching and drooling, a victim of the rare genetic disorder now called Huntington's Disease. The man had noticed twitching in his hand and is convinced he has the same disorder, and he did not wish to leave that awful legacy to his children. But his wife, unaware of this, stopped taking the pill and was now pregnant ... naturally, in "tvland", the man did not have the genetic trait - just too much stress from work -- and the "family" would live happily ever after thanking Doctor Welby for his advocacy for pushing them to have children.)


  10. Personally I don't get what the backlash was all about. If the only thing that is keeping your kids from having sex is fear of stds you are doing something wrong. Now at the time the clinical trials were not as extensive as they have been since then and there was a fairly high (as vaccines go) percentage of people with bad side effects. The thing is they just got unlucky with the initial group. As the group using the vaccine grew the number of people having side effects did not grow in proportion and it is now considered one of the safest vaccines given. The fact that it did not look like this would be the case would have been a good reason to oppose it and that is why some did oppose it. The "oh my God if you vaccinate my daughter against stds she will run out and have unprotected sex with every man she meets." just seemed like a stupid argument and the daughters of the people making it should have slapped their parents.

  11. And yet the focus of the objection to the vaccination is that it can be sexually transmitted, rather than the fact that HPV is a disease.

    Sadly, this appears to be THE determining factor for the objection to this vaccination in Texas.

    Shame on Texas. This is a truly fucked up point of view which does not merit respect. Sadly, those same right wing fanatics would happily impose their dementia on the rest of us, and call it freedom to boot.

  12. "I'd love to hear the explanation for how a vaccine harms the "innocence" of girls..."

    That's easy. The right-wing defines "innocence" as "ignorance."