Two bioethics professors have made a deal: they are willing to pay $11,000 for medical records proving the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine causes mental retardation, as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has claimed.
HPV infections can cause cervical cancer.
In Monday night’s GOP presidential debate, Bachmann attacked Texas Governor Rick Perry for issuing an executive order in 2007 that required girls to get the HPV vaccine before going to school. She questioned the governor’s authority to force “innocent little 12-year-old girls” to take a “potentially dangerous” medication.
The day following the debate, Bachmann defended her claims about the dangers of the drug on NBC’s Today Show. She said a woman from Tampa, Fla., approached her after the debate and said her daughter became “mentally retarded” after receiving the Gardasil vaccine.
“She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection. And she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. The mother was crying when she came up to me last night. I didn't know who she was before the debate. This is the very real concern and people have to draw their own conclusions,” Bachmann said.
The science and medical communities had a fit after Bachmann’s statements. Many accused her of using “junk science” and criticized her for repeating lies about the medication. These lies, they said, could cause damage by discouraging women who may need the medication from taking it.
Dr. Marion Burton, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, released a statement, declaring:
"The American Academy of Pediatrics would like to correct false statements made in the Republican presidential campaign that HPV vaccine is dangerous and can cause mental retardation. There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement. Since the vaccine has been introduced, more than 35 million doses have been administered, and it has an excellent safety record."
Wanting to set the record straight, Steven Miles, a bioethics professor at the University of Minnesota, is offering $1,000 if medical records of the woman from Bachmann's story can be produced for scrutiny by a medical professional.
Art Caplan, Miles’ former boss, upped the ante. Caplan, who is now director of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics, offered $10,000 more for proof of the HPV vaccine victim, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
"These types of messages in this climate have the capacity to do enormous public health harm," Miles told the Star. "The woman, assuming she exists, put this claim into the public domain and it's an extremely serious claim and it deserves to be analyzed."
Caplan told The Christian Post that he is "not defending any legislation or policy."
"I am not defending anything Perry did. But I do believe that people deserve to know the truth and the facts need to be set straight. When talking about the role of government, you don't need to scare people about the vaccine itself. And that's what Bachmann did."
Caplan said Bachmann should be held accountable for her statements, knowing the offer of a large sum of money to prove them would garner national attention.
Sean Hannity of Fox News later pressed Bachmann on his radio program. She backtracked on her story and eventually said she had “no idea” if it was true. Bachmann said she was simply reporting what the woman told her.
Yuval Levin, a former domestic policy adviser to George Bush's administration and former chief of staff of the President's Council on Bioethics, attacked Bachmann for what he called “ill-informed” remarks.
"Baseless assertions to the contrary about various vaccines have for years been piling needless guilt upon the parents of children with autism and other disorders, and driving other parents away from vaccinating their children against diseases that could do them great harm. A presidential candidate should not be engaging in such harmful nonsense,” he said in the National Review Online.
The Institute of Medicine, which advises the government, found the HPV vaccine to be safe last month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that girls receive the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12, before they begin having sex. In the U.S., an estimated 6 million people a year become infected with HPV, and some 4,000 women die of cervical cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society.