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HPV Vaccine Enters Political Debate

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- GOP presidential hopeful Congresswoman Michele Bachmann talked about a tearful woman who says her daughter was harmed by the HPV vaccine.

"She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter," Bachmann said.

Despite no scientific evidence behind her statement, doctors fear the damage has been done.

"What we worry about is with all the hoopla that comes up when a celebrity states something that's not based in scientific evidence, that it is in fact those people who are right in that hesitant place … parents will start to say no," says Dr. Elizabeth Miller, an adolescent medicine specialist at Children's Hospital.

Bachmann was attempting to cut down a rival, Texas Governor Rick Perry. He pushed for making the vaccine mandatory in Texas. She says it was a tit-for-tat for drug company campaign contributions.

"And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong," says Bachmann. "That's a violation of a liberty interest."

"Everybody prefers a good story over being shown percentages and graphs and the scientific facts," Dr. Miller said. "You know, stories sell and the unfortunate reality is that with an inflammatory story ... people's sense of risk gets completely blown out of proportion."

This three shot series is given to adolescents to prevent cervical cancer and other diseases caused by the human papilloma virus, or HPV. Since it came out in 2006, 35 million doses have been given. The most common side effect is a sore arm.

"In fact, it is one of the highest-rated in terms of safety," says Dr. Miller emphatically.

Even so, Dr. Miller says her colleagues practicing community pediatrics have already felt the effects of Bachmann's remarks.

"They are definitely getting more phone calls, more concerned parents and so I do think there is this effect – a heightened concern among our patients."


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