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Bachmann claims HPV vaccine might cause ‘mental retardation’

at 11:02 AM ET, 09/13/2011

After piling on Texas Gov. Rick Perry in last night’s presidential debate, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is continuing to attack the 2012 frontrunner for mandating that young girls get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

Perry has apologized for the mandate, saying it was a mistake. One of his former top aides had gone on to become a lobbyist for vaccine-maker Merck & Co. and pushed the governor for an executive order.

Social conservatives argue that the vaccine, which protects against a sexually-transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer, encourages promiscuity. Perry’s decision has already riled up conservative activists; it might be Bachmann’s best hope to win back those voters.

At the same time, her decision to link the vaccine to cognitive disorders has turned off some conservatives, suggesting her tendency to overreach has damaged a strong line of attack.

Post-debate, the Minnesota congresswoman sent out a fundraising appeal on the issue with the title “I’m Offended.” In interviews after the debate, she suggested that the vaccine could do permanent damage.

“There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine,” Bachmann said on Fox News. “She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result. There are very dangerous consequences.”

Bachmann repeated the allegation on the “Today Show” this morning, adding, “It’s very clear that crony capitalism could have likely been the cause, because the governor's former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company.”

And she’s getting support from a sometime-rival, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. "You have to go up against the big guns," Palin said on FOX News last night. “And they will try to destroy you, when you call them out on the mistakes that they have made.” The phrase “crony capitalism” is one Palin used in a speech in Iowa last weekend and repeated last night.

But some conservatives are pushing back on Bachmann’s ‘mental retardation’ claim, saying the candidate went too far.

“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.” wrote Ed Morrissey on Hot Air today.

“Bachmann might have blown it, she might have jumped the shark,” Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show. “There’s no evidence that the vaccine causes mental retardation.”

“Michele Bachmann is overplaying her hand on this issue and it is probably going to go away,” wrote Erick Erickson on RedState.

The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack wrote that “Bachmann seemed to go off the deep end.”

Perry himself has weighed in. “You heard the same arguments about giving our children protections from some of the childhood diseases, and they were, autism was part of that,” he told NBC News. “Now we've subsequently found out that was generated and not true.”

A 1998 study linking autism to vaccines was exposed earlier this year as a complete fraud. However, anti-vaccine activists continue to believe there is a connection.

The Center for Disease Control notes on its website that less than one percent of recipients reported “adverse events” after receiving the vaccine. Of those, 8 percent were “serious adverse events” — including Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurologic disorder that causes paralysis and muscle weakness, not cognitive disability.*

According to the CDC, studies showed no serious side effects to the vaccine and “there has been no indication” that the vaccine “increases the rate of GBS above the rate expected in the general population.” Bachmann cited no specific evidence to back up the anecdote.

But the Minnesota congresswoman clearly thinks she’s found a powerful charge against Perry, whose entrance into the race helped precipitate her fall in polls.

* This paragraph initially stated that 8 percent of respondents reported serious adverse effects after receiving the vaccine. It has been corrected.

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