If you are keeping up with the latest political news you may have heard about the war of words between Republican Presidential hopefuls, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry. At the center of their debate is a vaccine designed to protect young girls and women from the human papillomavirus or HPV. Bachmann attacked Texas Governor Rick Perry during a recent debate for his 2007 executive order requiring all sixth grade girls in Texas to receive the HPV vaccine unless their parents opted out. Although the order was rejected by the state legislature, Perry has received much flack for his attempt to make the vaccine mandatory. Michelle Bachmann went so far as to declare the vaccine a very dangerous drug possibly causing mental retardation. This declaration came from a personal story that a mother told Bachmann after a debate, not from any scientific proof or research study.
The human papillomavirus can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. It is reported that approximately six million people in the U.S. become infected with HPV and that as many as 4000 women die of cervical cancer each year. The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, marketed by Merck, is reported to be effective in defending against two strains of the HPV virus which are suspected to cause as many as 70% of cervical cancers. The vaccine is mainly targeted for young girls as the vaccine is reported to be most effective for those who have not had exposure to the HPV virus.
According to the official Gardasil website, girls as young as nine can receive the vaccine. In 2009 we reported that Merck was also marketing Gardasil for boys and young men (ages 9-26) to help prevent genital warts.
One of the other accusations Michelle Bachmann made during these political debates is that Rick Perry was motivated to mandate young girls receive the HPV vaccine due to monetary compensation from the vaccine’s manufacturer, Merck. Although Perry responded that he only received a $5,000 contribution from Merck, investigation into the matter proves otherwise. The Washington Post published an article on how Rick Perry and Merck have deep financial ties. According to news reports campaign disclosure revealed that Perry had received almost $30,000 from Merck since 2000. In addition the drug maker has given more than $380,000 to the Republican Governors Association (RGA) since 2006. Perry began his role in this group in this same year and eventually served as a chairman of RGA.
Perry denies that financial incentive was his motivation for his mandate to vaccinate young girls. Perry defended the policy by saying that "At the end of the day, I am always going to err on the side of life.”
Critics from his own party believe that Perry’s vaccine mandate is an example of big government intruding into personal liberties. The religious right worries that the vaccine may cause sexual promiscuity among young girls. Other critics say that the vaccine has not been proven to be any more effective in reducing cervical cancer than regular screenings. In a recent article published in The Guardian Diane Harper, a Professor of Medicine at the University of Missouri in Kansas City who led clinical trials for both Gardasil and its drug competitor Cevarix, is quoted as saying: