Vaccine Scares: Michelle Bachmann and HPV

In the GOP debate last week, Michelle Bachmann erroneously claimed that the HPV vaccine was dangerous, to score political points against Rick Perry, and single-handedly set back American public health. This article, from the New York Times,  is not really a science-related article, but it ties in nicely with the last one about alternative medicine: accepting an ignorant attitude towards the scientific process is legitimately dangerous. 

During a debate last week for Republican presidential candidates and in interviews after it, Representative Michele Bachmann called the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer “dangerous.” Medical experts fired back quickly. Her statements were false, they said, emphasizing that the vaccine is safe and can save lives. Mrs. Bachmann was soon on the defensive, acknowledging that she was not a doctor or a scientist.

But the harm to public health may have already been done. When politicians or celebrities raise alarms about vaccines, even false alarms, vaccination rates drop.

“These things always set you back about three years, which is exactly what we can’t afford,” said Dr. Rodney E. Willoughby…

… Historically, Dr. Willoughby said, vaccine scares have caused vaccination rates to drop for three or four years, and have led to outbreaks of diseases that had previously been under control, like measles and whooping cough. Measles cases in the United States reached a 15-year high last spring, with more than 100 cases, most in people who had never been vaccinated.

Once the disease begins to reappear, parents become worried and start vaccinating again. With cervical cancer, Dr. Willoughby said, “unfortunately, the outbreak is silent and will take 20 years to manifest.”

Ignorance hurts people. Public figures need to be held accountable for the outsize consequences of their actions.

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