Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. at a debate Monday evening, aimed pointed criticism at Texas Gov. Rick Perry over an executive order he issued several years ago that required pre-teen girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease.
Bachmann called the preventative vaccine for human papillomavirus a "potentially dangerous drug," which contradicts the opinion of many medical experts and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer.
Bachmann, who trails in recent polls, needed to boost her campaign traction, and may have found it when she attacked her Texas rival on the vaccination requirement.
"To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat-out wrong. That should never be done. That's a violation of the liberty interests," Bachmann said during Monday night's CNN/Tea Party Express debate in Tampa, Fla.
She suggested in dramatic tones that there are dangers associated with getting the HPV vaccination.
"Little girls who have a negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug don't get a mulligan. They don't get a do-over," she said.
Bachmann stepped up her rhetoric Tuesday morning on NBC's Today show.
"I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa after the debate," Bachmann said. "She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. It can have very dangerous side effects."
“I'm concerned that issues of vaccine use become part of political debate. The science is very clear.”Dr. Bill Schaffner, immunization expert
But Bachmann's statements are not supported by experts on the subject.
The HPV vaccine is an "extraordinarily safe and effective anti-cancer vaccine," said Dr. Bill Schaffner, who chairs the Department of Preventative Medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and has an international reputation as an immunization expert.
Accepting Bachmann's "potentially dangerous" argument and forgoing the vaccine means also forgoing the chance to prevent about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, Schaffner said.
"I'm concerned that issues of vaccine use become part of political debate. The science is very clear," Schaffner said.
Nationally, pediatricians recommend the HPV vaccine to their patients — girls and boys, aged 11 to 15 years, for the prevention of cervical cancer and genital warts. The vaccine is administered in three separate doses over a six-month period. The human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S., according to the CDCP.
Gov. Perry has been criticized before over the controversial executive order he issued in 2007 that mandated vaccination against the disease for sixth grade girls. The order allowed parents to opt their children out of the requirement, but it infuriated many conservatives who said it would encourage sexual promiscuity.
Because HPV can lead to cervical cancer, Perry has said he issued the order to protect girls' lives.
The Texas Legislature quickly overturned Perry's order, but he has steadfastly defended his move ever since, and especially since entering the race for president last month.
Perry now says he should not have circumvented the Legislature.
Given the positive response that Bachmann received from the debate audience on this issue, Bachmann will likely continue using it to criticize Perry.
Perry entered the race for the GOP nomination for president only last month. He has quickly become the frontrunner in public opinion polls, while Bachmann's support has eroded.