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Gardasil and the GOP

The Hoover Institution’s Henry I. Miller, MD takes to National Review to take on the subject of “Gardasil and the GOP.”

In the extensive clinical studies (on more than 20,000 girls and women) that were performed prior to the FDA’s licensing of the vaccine, the vaccine was 100 percent effective, a virtually unprecedented result. How safe is the vaccine? No serious side effects were detected; the most common side effect is soreness, redness and swelling in the arm at the site of the injection.

In summary, Gardasil has one of the most favorable risk-benefit ratios of any pharmaceutical.

Having spent 15 years at the FDA and having seen regulation — the good, the bad and the ugly — up close, I am as opposed to anyone (except perhaps Ron Paul) to non-essential government intrusion into our lives. But some interventions are good. Among those I would include vaccination against childhood diseases and compulsory use of seat belts and motorcycle helmets.

I am discouraged by politicians who not only don’t know much about science, technology, or medicine (which is perhaps understandable) but also don’t know what they don’t know (which is unacceptable).

Miller is both a renowned expert on the subject and a conservative of unimpeachable credentials, so I hope his message gets through.

While I’ve never been part of the anti-vaccine crowd, I’ve generally been pretty skeptical over the years about the nanny state and the right of government to dictate matters of limit individual rights in the name of protecting us from the consequences of our own decisions. But this one seems like a no-brainer: the drug is extraordinarily safe and effective and the disease against which it protects is both incurable and communicable.

The “parental rights” rejoinder is unpersuasive here. There’s no IQ or expertise barrier to becoming a parent. And large numbers of demonstrably smart and well educated people–like Michele Bachmann–are complete idiots when it comes to medical science. The notion that they should be allowed to subject their children to huge risks out of ignorance and superstition is baffling.

While irrationality about vaccines is by no means limited to conservatives, one added irony is that the conservatives in the group are generally also anti-abortion. This means that they’re simultaneously arguing that society has a moral obligation to protect unborn children from the decisions of their mothers and that mothers should have absolute freedom with regard to the health of their born children.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.


  1. sonmi451 says:

    The anti-vaccine crowd is usually the province of certain type of people on the left, except when sex gets into the mix, then certain section of the right join in too. I guess this is one issue we can legitimately say “BOTH SIDES DO IT”, heh.

    I oppose Perry violently in almost every issues and think the country would basicaly go to hell in a handcart if we ever elect a President Perry, but it’s really hard to believe that he would mandate the vaccination for that small amount of campaign contribution. It’s possible to be completely indifferent to the fact that you might have allowed the execution of an innocent man, and still want to protect girls and women from dying of cervical cancer.

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  2. EddieInCA says:

    James –

    I’m shocked that you’re surprised that a well-educated person like Michelle Bachmann has the views she professed regarding Gardasil. Her position is the logical extension of those (most on the right) who truly believe that “science” and “scientists” and “facts” have a liberal bias.

    It goes along with the (mostly on the right) positions on Evolution, Climate Change, Bioethics, etc.

    This is now the GOP mainstream position, as articulated by the Tea Party? At some point, people like you and Doug are going to have to make a choice: Stay and support the crazies (by continuing to remain silent to the craziness) or speak out and make a break to either a third party or to the Dems. Because the GOP is now on the Crazy Train, and it’s left the station.

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  3. WR says:

    It’s simple. Girls who have sex outside of marriage are sluts. Sluts deserve to die. Therefore vaccinating them is against God’s will.

    The entire Republican social platform right there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  4. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA: I’ve acknowledged for a while that we may be coming to that point. Thus far, the Republican Party has managed to nominate sane candidates at the presidential level. After the 2010 elections, for the first time, the fringes started to dominate the elite leadership in the House.

    I still think the most likely nominee is Romney, who I can almost certainly support. My guess is that Perry implodes. Bachmann is already a novelty act.

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  5. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    Thanks James –

    As much as I disagree with you and Doug, I come back here for the relatively reasoned analysis from a perspective I don’t share. However, I’m still a bit surprised at your lack of understanding how much the fringe has taken over the current GOP.

    I think a Romney nominee opens the door wide open for a third and even fourth candidate. I can very easily seeing a Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and even Rick Perry running as a Tea Party Candidate. And you can never rule out Ron Paul running as well.

    Additionally, you have a huge swath of Evangelical Christians who will vote for the black guy (or, more likely, stay home) before they vote for a Mormon.

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  6. gVOR08 says:

    @sonmi451: I don’t have much personal experience with the anti-vaccine crowd. The few I have met are right wing and it’s basically just, ‘the gummit told someone to do something, it must be evil’. However, I live in an area where most of the people I meet are right wing. I suspect you are correct when you say,

    The anti-vaccine crowd is usually the province of certain type of people on the left, except when sex gets into the mix, then certain section of the right join in too. I guess this is one issue we can legitimately say “BOTH SIDES DO IT”, heh.

    I don’t think you meant to imply equivalence, but I’d hate to see a false symmetry interpretation grow from this. I don’t remember a noteworthy Democrat at the national level supporting an anti-vaccination stand. Anyone?

    On the larger topic, is the vaccine one way or another the point? Whether Perry got $5K that day, $30K over time, or $300+K to the RGA, Perry took the odd step of issuing an executive order over a non-emergency public health issue and a good buddy of his of benefited financially. No implication of illegality, but certainly not admirable.

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  7. @EddieInCA:

    It goes along with the (mostly on the right) positions on Evolution, Climate Change, Bioethics, etc.

    Of course stretching the term science to cover politics by the left is part of why it has become so easy for demagogues on the right to peddle anti-science views.

    Science itself has nothing to say about what moral limits we should place on investigations and the use of scientific discoveries. To say that someone who disagrees with you on bioethics policy is “anti-science” in the same way someone who refuses to accept evolution is just confuses the issue.

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  8. EddieInCA says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Terri Schiavo.

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  9. @EddieInCA:

    Tomato? Oh darn, I hate these word association games.

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