Michele Bachmann An Anti-Vaccine Wingnut?

Michele Bachmann continued to attack Rick Perry over the Gardisil decision on morning television today, and related this odd story:

“I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Fla., after the debate. She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter,” Bachmann said.

She continued: “The mother was crying what 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.”

This sounds a lot like the claims that childhood vaccines such as the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine cause autism. A charge which has been thoroughly debunked in light of the revelation that the report on which it was based was a complete fraud. There’s been no evidence that the HPV vaccine causes anything close to what Bachmann is claiming happened here.

Does Bachmann actually believe this nonsense?

Update: Ed Morrissey gets it right:

The FDA has received no reports of brain damage as a result of HPV vaccines Gardasil and Cervarix.  Among the reports that correlate seriously adverse reactions to either, the FDA lists blood clots, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and 68 deaths during the entire run of the drugs.  The FDA found no causal connection to any of these serious adverse events and found plenty of contributing factors to all — and all of the events are exceedingly rare.

The “mental retardation” argument is a rehash of the thoroughly discredited notion that vaccines containing thimerasol caused a rapid increase in diagnosed autism cases.  That started with a badly-botched report in Lancet that allowed one researcher to manipulate a ridiculously small sample of twelve cases in order to reach far-sweeping conclusions about thimerasol.  That preservative hasn’t been included in vaccines for years, at least not in the US, and the rate of autism diagnoses remain unchanged.

The most charitable analysis that can be offered in this case for Bachmann is that she got duped into repeating a vaccine-scare urban legend on national television.  It looks more like Bachmann sensed that she had won a point and wanted to go in for the kill, didn’t bother to check the facts, and didn’t care that she was stoking an anti-vaccination paranoid conspiracy theory, either.  Neither shines a particularly favorable light on Bachmann.

Indeed it doesn’t. In fact, Bachmann has already gotten pushback from people in the medical field:

The alleged link between vaccination and mental disabilities — autism is the one frequently cited — has been repeatedly debunked, with the key research on the issue in a British journal withdrawn years ago. But the theory has lived on, and contributed to declining vaccine rates and — advocates for autistic children say — scientific distraction.

“Congresswoman Bachmann’s decision to spread fear of vaccines is dangerous and irresponsible,” said Evan Siegfried, a spokesman for the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership. “There is zero credible scientific evidence that vaccines cause mental retardation or autism. She should cease trying to foment fear in order to advance her political agenda.”

In the course of one short interview, Bachmann managed to take what some were saying was a tactical win against Perry and turn it into something that makes her seem like she’s in the same category as anti-vaccine wingnuts like Jenny McCarthy.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. A charge which has been thoroughly debunked

    By scientists. And we know what Bachmann thinks of them…

  2. James Joyner says:

    I’m guessing the child was also exposed to hot dogs. I’d call that a far greater risk factor than the vaccine.

  3. Fiona says:

    Does Bachmann actually believe this nonsense?

    She believes lots of other nonsense, so why not this particular brand? The fact that anything had been debunked by scientists wouldn’t impress her.

  4. Moosebreath says:

    “Does Bachmann actually believe this nonsense?”

    Whether or not Bachmann personally believes this, a significant portion of the Republican base does. They also don’t believe in evolution and global warming. Nice group of folks you are willing to support.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    Doug, I believe there are incidents of severe, traumatic reactions to immunizations that cause permanent problems, including death. That’s the function of the Vaccine Court, a certain small percentage of individuals will be harmed by vaccines, and a fund, paid for by a tax on immunizations, is set up to compensate them. It looks like the Court has compensated 19 claims of injury or death as a result of HPV claims.*

    * = Causation is broadly defined by a standard that is more generous than would be used in regular court or by science.

  6. anjin-san says:

    Does Bachmann actually believe this nonsense?

    You are a Republican James, do you believe it? No? Then why are you a Republican. This is mainstream thinking in the GOP, perhaps you should get real about that.

  7. anjin-san says:

    sorry, attributed Doug’s statement to James. I still think it is a valid point for both of you. Of course Doug can always trot out his stock “I am not a Republican” line.

    So then my question for Doug becomes are you ever going to take a stand?

  8. legion says:

    As Moosebreath notes, it’s not important (yet) if Bachmann believes it or not. It stirs strong emotions in a sizable group of easily manipulated people who are looking for simple, easy, its-someone-elses-fault answers. Therefore, watch for it to become a central plank in future GOP debates.

  9. Jay Tea says:

    More importantly, it highlights something significant: there is absolutely no reason why a parent should have to spell out why they don’t want their child to get this particular vaccine. Their reasoning is simply not for your — or others’ — approval. In some cases, where the disease actually poses a danger to those around the child, that’s one thing. But here, we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about something that purely affects the child — and in this case, the parents’ rights are supreme until a very, very compelling case can be made.


  10. TBogg says:

    @Jay Tea:

    Because HPV can’t be transmitted to other people.

    Got it, Jay.

  11. The modern GOP: The party of Jenny McCarthy

  12. Jay Tea says:

    @TBogg: We’re talking about vaccinating prepubescent girls. Further, we aren’t talking about something as wildly contagious as pertussis or or any of the other traditional vaccinated-against diseases.

    Get a little reality, chum.


  13. legion says:

    @Jay Tea: How exactly do you think communicable diseases spread, anyway? The Magic Disease Fairy?

  14. David M says:

    @Jay Tea: The person’s age is a distraction at best, as this vaccine is given years after the child starts receiving other vaccines as a baby. 50% of sexually active adults will get it over their lifetimes, how is that not contagious enough?

  15. @Timothy Watson:

    Other than this one issue, I doubt there’s anything that anti-vaccine people like Jenny McCarthy and Bill Maher have in common with the Republican party. While the GOP candidates should certainly be called on their anti-science positions, there’s plenty of anti-science people on the left as well, and the vaccine issue in particular seems to appeal to nuts in a pretty bipartisan manner.

  16. @David M:

    While he probably won’t admit it, I’d wager Jay (like many on the right) thinks that people who get sexually transmitted diseases deserve to get sick as punishment for the crime of having recreational sex. The real reason for the opposition to this vaccine is that if the threat of HPV is reduced, that means more people will be getting away with it.

  17. Restless says:

    A lot of states mandate Hep B vaccinations, including Minnesota. Vaccinations don’t cause retardation; that is solely a belief of idiots and crazy people. Although I wonder that if rather than injections Bachmann received her vaccinations by drinking them by the gallon…

  18. mattb says:

    Followup question for Jay (and anyone else who wants to answer), based on the general tenor of last night’s debate, if a family chooses not to immunize a daughter and she later contracts cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) (not even cervical cancer) should that individual (or family) be denied health insurance or government assistance for treatment because of that choice?

    It seems to me that the consistent answer would have to be “yes” — as in choosing not to immunize they were inherently accepting this risk.

    A parallel question would be if that family (or individual once she — or he* — is of age) could be open to civil lawsuits for spreading HPV (in the same way that some people used civil law to go after people who spread HIV). That one seems more based on if the individual knew they were effected or not.

  19. mantis says:

    What do you mean Michele Bachmann? All of the Republicans on that stage, with the possible mealy-mouthed exception of Perry, were fully on board with Bachmann’s “government injection” rejection of vaccinations.

    Between that and the audience cheering for the deaths of young uninsured people (WTF is wrong with these people?), it seems quite clear that the Republican Party are the Party of Death.

    Without vaccination, HPV will be contracted by about half of the population. HPV causes 70% of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer wipes out, on average, 25 years of the victim’s life. It kills about 4-5000 American women each year. No doubt about it, Republicans want those women, and many more, to die.

  20. PD Shaw says:

    I forgot to link to the Vaccine Court earlier. Since HPV vaccines were first listed in 2007, there have been:

    148 claims of Vaccine-caused injury
    9 claims of Vaccine-caused death

    Of those adjudicated:
    19 claims were paid
    23 claims were dismissed


  21. Pug says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    While the GOP candidates should certainly be called on their anti-science positions, there’s plenty of anti-science people on the left as well…

    Is there a distinction to be made between the comedian and TV personality “on the left” and presidential candidates on the right? I didn’t think so.

    It’s so easy to simply claim something about “the left” and then find a crackpot somewhere. Difference is, the crackpots in the GOP are on the stage participating in presidential debates.

  22. @Stormy Dragon: I don’t disagree that McCarthy and Maher are liberals but the anti-science and anti-intellectualism that makes up the anti-vaccine movement is much more pervasive on the right than the left.

  23. That Guy says:


    Between that and the audience cheering for the deaths of young uninsured people (WTF is wrong with these people?), it seems quite clear that the Republican Party are the Party of Death.”

    Next thing you know, they’re going to be up there supporting IPABs, and saying that women have a “right” to kill their unborn children…

  24. @Jay Tea:

    The reason the vaccine is given to “prepubescent girls” is because it’s effectiveness declines dramatically if it’s given after the onset of puberty. There are studies that confirm this. It’s essentially a one-shot deal, get the vaccine when your between 11 and 13, or risk it not being effective if you wait until you’re an adult.

    I don’t support the mandate — although Texas didn’t have a mandate since there was an opt-out provision — but based on everything I’ve read I can’t find any reason why I would’ve have my daughter inoculated if I had one.

  25. Jay Tea says:

    @mattb: Let me turn that question around on you: on what matters should parents have no say whatsoever, and the matter should be decided by the government?

    Yes, there has to be a balance. There are times when parents’ poor decisions cross over into criminal neglect. But my default position is always on the parents’ side until a case has been made that they should be overridden. Otherwise, we head down a very slippery slope.

    There was recently in the news the case of some children being taken away from their parents because the children were too overweight. That’s a bit extreme to me.

    Let’s keep carrying it forward. Should desperately poor people be allowed to keep their children? They obviously can’t care for themselves; they certainly can’t provide for children. We’re already paying for them; why not do something that will improve the kids’ chances of growing up healthy and strong and self-reliant?


  26. Jay Tea says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Thanks for the clarification, Doug, but my point was that the vaccine was not largely intended for “public health,” but “individual health.” HPV is hardly a raging epidemic spread by casual contact. I, too, disagree with mandating it, and am trying to explain, in part, my rationale. In the case of readily communicable diseases, public safety trumps individual rights. But in cases where the disease is not spread by casual contact, it’s a different story altogether.

    If I had a daughter, I’d want her vaccinated, too. But to me, it’s a lot like seat belt laws — the “public safety” argument is weak, and I prefer to err on the side of people being allowed to make their own decisions, make their own mistakes.


  27. David M says:

    @Jay Tea: Individual health vaccines (tetanus) are already required for entrance into Texas public schools.

    Vaccines usually aren’t 100% effective, which is why herd immunity is important. Any opt out decision affects everyone else that is vaccinated.

  28. Trumwill says:

    @Timothy Watson: There are a lot of anti-science views that you can lay at the doorstep of the right, but antivax isn’t really one of them. When you look at places with waves of infections that could have been prevented with vaccinations, they tend to be in pretty liberal places. Opposition to “the medical establishment” has a hippie element to it. The difference on a political level is that the Democratic Party itself wants no part of this while the GOP will apparently use it if it’s helpful for a tangential cause (such as opposing a mandate).

  29. @Trumwill:

    The anti-vaccine swamp also has paths from the environmental (we’re injecting our kids with mercury!) and anti-pharma (big corporations just want to give your kid autism for profit!) movements running in to it, neither of which has a particularly big right wing following.

  30. Restless says:

    Actually, this reminds me about Bachmann’s bizarre (ok, that’s redundant) comments about swine flu. I’m beginning to think that she’s not just really irresponsible rhetorically, she really needs some kind of professional intervention of some kind.

  31. Jay Tea says:

    @Trumwill: When you look at places with waves of infections that could have been prevented with vaccinations, they tend to be in pretty liberal places. Opposition to “the medical establishment” has a hippie element to it.

    I would suspect that immigrants — more particularly, illegal immigrants — are more of a factor than “I ain’t taking The Man’s phony vaccines” attitude. We’ve relaxed the health restrictions for legal immigrants, and vaccination is far less common among most other nations.


  32. L. says:

    My daughter had a neurological adverse reaction to the HPV vaccination. I’ve always believed in science and vaccines, but not any more. My daughter did not suffer permanent brain damage, but a top rated neurologist believed there was something wrong in the thalamus portion of her brain. I believe her brain fogginess was mainly due to the gabapentin medicine. It’s been three years and she is 90% better. More testing and scientific research needs to be done on the HPV vaccine.

  33. Camilla says:


    So, because of a small, vague problem that might or might not have been due to the vaccine, you no longer believe in science? Good to know.

  34. Trumwill says:

    @Jay Tea: I wouldn’t be surprised if it were playing a role in California (it does seem to me that a native population that spurns vaccinations and an immigrant population that doesn’t get them make for a bad combination). But Boulder? Vermont? Michigan? Ohio? Minnesota?