COMMENTARY

$$$$ Reward if Bachmann Proves Vaccine Causes ‘Retardation’

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD

Disclosures

September 16, 2011

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I am Art Caplan, and I am speaking to you from the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. I want to talk to you about a challenge that I issued that you may have heard about. I basically said to Michele Bachmann, "If you can produce this case you were talking about in the GOP debate of a woman who became mentally retarded" -- those were her words -- "from getting the HPV cervical cancer vaccine, I'll pay $10,000 to a charity of your choice."

I said, "We would have to have 3 doctors who know something about vaccines verify the case. We can agree on who those are. They could be from the University of Minnesota or the University of Pennsylvania." I said that she has a week to produce that case, and if she can't, then she gives $10,000 to a charity of my choice.

People may be thinking, isn't this a little bit of a gimmick? The answer is yes. I know that it is an odd notion to put out a bounty when someone makes a claim. But I was so angry -- not only when Bachmann talked about the dangers of HPV vaccine in the GOP presidential debate, but when she kept repeating it after the show on other media outlets. It just seemed to me that it was time to speak up.

The reason I put the challenge out the way that I did is that I thought it would get media attention, and it has. I am very concerned that women -- 4000 of whom die each year in America from cervical cancer, and another 10,000 who have to undergo surgery to treat cervical cancer -- won't get this vaccine because they have heard these rumors that it is dangerous. The uptake of the vaccine hasn't been very good so far in the United States. We need to make sure that women get the vaccine, and fear-mongering is just completely irresponsible.

Moreover, it feeds fears about vaccines in general, which is a big problem in the United States. Too many people don't get their boosters, don't get their meningitis vaccines, and opt out from having their kids vaccinated. We have babies dying of whooping cough in California. It's just inexcusable to have a situation in which our politicians are on TV babbling away ignorantly about dangers of vaccines, and they have to be called into account. I hope that this challenge that I have put forth does that.

I also didn't want Michele Bachmann or anybody else involved in this kind of fear-mongering to slink away from it. I knew that by putting out this bounty that it would extend the story, and that by saying "I'm going to wait a week," it extends the story that much. It's because I want the message about vaccine safety to come out loud and clear.

I am pleased to announce that as of today, people have volunteered to match my $10,000 up to about $125,000, and that's great. I fervently hope that we can actually get the question that politicians should be answering on the table as a result of this offer by me to the Bachmann campaign. That question is very simple: So many Americans are not vaccinated; what do you, as a presidential candidate, propose to do to make sure they do get vaccinated?

This is Art Caplan and I'm at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. Thanks for watching.

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