Anecdotal, perhaps, but here’s a story that illuminates something of the story behind the kerfuffle.
Until you’ve seen a special photograph, Craig Wilson says you don’t know the whole story of Rick Perry’s HPV vaccine decision.
“She’s happy as hell. I mean, she is just unbelievably ecstatic,” Wilson said. “Here she is on a beautiful ranch somewhere, riding on a motorcycle, which she’s never really done, with the governor of the state of Texas.”
The guy driving the motorcycle is Governor Rick Perry. The young woman on the back is Houstonian Heather Burcham, who was at that moment just 31 years old and a few months away from dying of cervical cancer.
Heather said in an interview prior to her death, “I feel like I’m not going in vain, because I can tell others about it.”
Also, the notion that it wasn’t safe, as Michelle Bachmann contended, doesn’t jibe with the reality of the FDA’s testing and approval. Avik Roy lays into Bachmann’s rather odd attacks that smelled of desperation.
Pretty much every sentence in this passage is false. No one was “forced to have a government injection.” As I noted above, people could opt out of the never-implemented program. And Gardasil, Merck’s HPV vaccine, went through a rigorous, FDA-approved program of clinical trials and manufacturing inspections, with the weight of the evidence indicating that it is far more “dangerous” to go without the vaccine than to take it. Is it also “flat out wrong” that innocent 2-month-old babies get the diphtheria vaccine?
It gets worse. In media appearances following the debate, Bachmann claimed, all evidence to the contrary, that HPV vaccines can cause “mental retardation.”
The sensitivity around the HPV vaccine comes from the fact that HPV is sexually transmitted. And Perry attempted to respect that legitimate concern by allowing parents to opt out of the program. But to me, Bachmann’s inflammatory, fact-free rhetoric is reminiscent of the campaign against fluoridation of the public water supply: something that some in the 1950s considered a “communist plot to undermine public health.”
I generally oppose communist plots to undermine public health, but fluoridation didn’t turn out to be one. Neither will Gardasil. If anything, it’s Bachmann who is undermining public health by scaring people away from vaccines that prevent cervical cancer.
This last was courtesy of a wonderful new daily digest of the best of the previous day’s news and news commentary, The Transom, which is assembled by my friend, the brilliant, and brilliantly witty, Ben Domenech.
Considering that the plan did have an opt-out, it was legitimately aimed at saving lives rather than taking over people’s health care decisions, it was another vaccine like so many vaccines we are required to get, and that I no longer accept that it was even arguably a “go be promiscuous now” card, I can’t muster any outrage or even concern over the Gardasil call on Perry’s part.
I still haven’t worked out the immigration issue and his support for Giuliani in ’08, but Perry is presently looking to me like the best GOP candidate.