Thoughts on Bachmann’s “Viral Politics”

via Student Activism(among many others).  At Tuesday night’s CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential debate, Michelle Bachmann chastized Texas governor Rick Perry  for his 2007 support of a mandatory state program vaccinating girls against Human Papilloma Virus — a sexually-transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer.  during the debate, Bachmann called the vaccine  a “government injection,” and Perry’s decision as “a violation of a liberty interest.” She also suggested that Perry’s support of mandatory vaccination was payback for Merck’s support of his campaign (Perry’s former chief of staff was a lobbyist for Merck). After the debate, Bachmann went even further:

“When you have innocent little 12-year-old girls,” she said, “that are being forced to have a government injection into their body — this is a liberty interest that violates the most deepest personal part of a little child. … A little girl doesn’t get a do over — once they have that vaccination in their body, once it causes its damage, that little girl doesn’t have a chance to go back.”

Student Activism says he was “gobsmacked by the language itself — the use of such heavily loaded molestation imagery to describe a non-invasive, voluntary medical procedure.”

I wasn’t going to get mixed up in this but because I contributed to the volume picture at left, and I’ve been getting links to articles about this asking for my thoughts, I’ve decided to weigh in after all.

I agree that Bachmann’s rhetoric is outrageous (especially since she shows little  concern for women who have been sexually assaulted, or those who need basic reproductive health care like pelvic exams or cervical cancer treatment).

Even the conservative paper  Wall Street Journal has condemned Bachmann’s “viral politics” and demagoguery, calling this “the kind of know-nothingism that undermines public support for vaccination altogether and leads to such public health milestones as California reporting in 2010 the highest number of whooping cough cases in 55 years.”

Wow, it’s not often I agree with the WSJ!  It’s also not often that the WSJ critiques a Republican candidate — obviously Backmann is beyond the pale (and I bet Perry’s ties to Big Pharma is a plus for the pro-business publication).

At the same time, I’m going to plug my and my colleagues’ work in Three Shots of Prevention and suggest critics get it and learn about the multiple moral, ethical, and scientific questions regarding HPV vaccines.

Update:  I’m addressing Dr. Pete’s comments here rather than in the comments section.  First, I and others who work on adolescent health issues acknowledge that there is a qualitative difference between young children and teenagers.  One of the keys to successful adolescent health care is involving teenagers in the process (and as they age, asking Mom and Dad to step out of the room). In other words, girls (and boys) who are being offered the HPV vaccine should be part of the conversation about whether or not to receive it.  So individual liberty includes teenagers too, not just parents. The imagery used by Bachmann in her remarks does not acknowledge the developmental differences between teenagers and younger children.




3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Bachmann’s “Viral Politics”

  1. Just to note, Professor, that J-school researchers have consistently found the WSJ’s journalism (as opposed to editorials) the most-liberal-biased in the country, ahead of even the NYT.

    The question at hand at the debate was not whether or not the HPV vaccination was wise. The question was whether government should order its administration. To be precise and, thus, fair, Governor Perry’s executive order did allow a parental opt-out.

    Congresswoman Bachmann was 100% correct that this was a liberty issue, and Governor Perry was correct to admit that he had been wrong, and apologizing for it. Requiring vaccinations for, e.g., polio and measles as condition for attending public schools is different because there the issue is protecting against a violation of others’ liberty by an infected child. With HPV the vaccine is to protect the child from herself. That is a violation of the unalienable right to liberty. Congresswoman Bachmann was spot-on that the decision must be left to the parents.

    Bachmann went too far in implying a “crony capitalism” quid pro quo between the Governor and Merck, that because she had no proof of said.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Dr. Pete. When I have time, I’ll go back and clarify this in the original post — but it was more Bachmann’s choice of wording that I found outrageous. There is a difference between an adolescent girl and a “little child” — and most experts in adolescent health recommend that not only the parents but girls themselves be involved in this decision. Furthermore, Bachmann really overreached when she made unfounded claims about the vaccination supposedly causing mental retardation. I actually think the point about individual liberty is a good one.

    • There are two things here, hmprescott. I think in the heat of a debate under that pressure that the distinction that YOU would make between a “child” and an “adolescent” when speaking of a 12-year-old might seem to both a Michelle Bachmann and to a lay-listener a distiction without a difference. Also, in an interview the next day with multiple questioners, Bachmann said that a tearful woman had approached her after the debate and said that her daughter suffered mental retardation as result of the vaccine. Bachmann also said then that she (Bachmann) was neither a medical practitioner nor a scientist.

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