How the HPV Vaccine Splits the Economic and Social Right

By Chris Mooney | September 13, 2011 9:16 am

I was fascinated by this exchange from the Tea Party debate last night, as reported on by CNN:

Bachmann and Perry squared off on the vaccination situation, with Bachmann saying, “We cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order there’s a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this.” She added that a former Perry aide was a lobbyist for the company and asked if the issue was about saving lives or money.

Perry responded that the company, Merck, made a $5,000 contribution and said to Bachmann: “If you’re saying I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.”

“I’m offended by what happened to all those girls, ” Bachmann said of the required vaccination of girls as young as 12 against cervical cancer.

Traditionally, Republicans have managed to be both pro-business and also pro-religious right, despite rumbling contradictions between the two stances on key issues like the HPV vaccine–where a big drugmaker is making money helping to improve people’s health, but the moralistic Christian right is opposed.

But here the contrast is so strong that you find a right winger making a traditional left wing argument against another politician–e.g., you were bought and paid for by that Big Company. (Hmm, how consistent would Bachmann be in using that logic?)

I don’t think Republicans today are really the allies of corporate America any more, and I think exchanges like this–and the whole debt ceiling battle, and the shifting of energy companies to support cap-and-trade, and much else–prove it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservatives and Science

Comments (15)

  1. That’s an interesting change and one that could benefit the centre and centre-left–don’t you think?

  2. Kirk

    After hearing for years that low income Texans have no access to health care, Perry wakes up one morning and ALL HE CAN THINK ABOUT is how to please his lobbiest pal’s request last night at poker to vaccinate. Yeah, that’s sound public policy.

  3. Up Youns

    Compare the HPV Vaccine Splits to the Split caused by Obamacare. The HPV controversy pales in comparison.

  4. Gaythia

    I think that there is a bigger split regarding the HPV vaccine than you seem to realize. Because this vaccine does not eliminate HPV, (only certain types) there is some controversy overall as to the appropriate allocation of health dollars. Should we focus on expanding use of pap smears (still needed even if vaccinated) instead? If we reduce the population of certain forms of HPV, are we truly, over the long haul shifting towards forms that are less likely to cause cancer, and more likely to create immunity?

    The situation is complex and does not lend itself strictly to a vaxx/antivaxx analysis. Simplistic moralistic arguments, or pharmaceutical lobbying dollars are also not great ways to implement medical policy.

    See for example:

    “The theory behind the vaccine is sound: If HPV infection can be prevented, cancer will not occur. But in practice the issue is more complex. First, there are more than 100 different types of HPV and at least 15 of them are oncogenic. The current vaccines target only 2 oncogenic strains: HPV-16 and HPV-18. Second, the relationship between infection at a young age and development of cancer 20 to 40 years later is not known. HPV is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection, with an estimated 79% infection rate over a lifetime5​,6 The virus does not appear to be very harmful because almost all HPV infections are cleared by the immune system.7​,8 In a few women, infection persists and some women may develop precancerous cervical lesions and eventually cervical cancer. It is currently impossible to predict in which women this will occur and why. Likewise, it is impossible to predict exactly what effect vaccination of young girls and women will have on the incidence of cervical cancer 20 to 40 years from now. The true effect of the vaccine can be determined only through clinical trials and long-term follow-up. “

  5. Karen

    Perhaps generalizations concerning each party are not really true….and generalizations should not be made in a hope of preventing error and inaccuracy. Generalizing usually leads to boxing people in as opposed to broader thinking. And, because someone says something silly once, doesn’t mean they are a bonehead forever.

  6. TTT

    Blitzer should have followed up on the Gardasil issue with a question about vaccines in general. You KNOW that some of the creationist kook candidates up there are gonna be anti-vax–I’d bet good money on Bachmann. But the so-called “liberal media” never goes there, in their nonstop fawning and coddling and soft-gloving of the teabagger fad.

  7. Dave

    Not to nit-pick, but did you really mean ‘prurient’? Perhaps ‘prudish’ instead?

    Enjoyed the article, per usual.

  8. Chris Mooney

    Yeah, oops. That’s like when I once wrote “hone in” rather than “home in”….but kinda worse.

  9. Shane

    Perhaps he is suggesting that it takes a lot more to buy him.

  10. TTT

    @6: Oooohhhh I totally called it, Bachmann’s an anti-vaxer at heart. Her story about how Gardasil can make your kids retarded is now all over the blogosphere. Read it, it’s quite the ripping yarn.

  11. Somite

    So much for most anti-vaxers being on the left. A republican presidential candidate is openly anti-vaxxer

  12. Paul

    The right wing blogosphere is down on Bachmann now. This looks like a campaign ender for her.

    For example:

  13. TerryEmberson

    How does one idiot politician equate to MOST anti-vaxxers?

  14. Baramos

    Clearly if these girls receive a vaccine for one STD which causes cervical cancer several years later, they will begin having sex with every man in sight, as there are of course no other life-threatening STDs in existence which later in life can kill you.

  15. Baramos

    Also, Bachmann claims that the vaccine caused mental retardation in some child. I would hope that she produces this 12 year old child who was stricken with mental retardation immediately after receiving this vaccine so she can shed a light on this poison.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs.For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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