The Facts Behind the HPV Vaccine Debate and Rick Perry’s Merck Ties

I’m going to drop some knowledge on lady-part business today, followed up with some commentary on the HPV vaccine mandate debate going on among the GOP primary contenders. I’m also going to drop my CPhT credentials here, since I’m talking about health care and am technically a health care professional.

I received the Gardasil vaccinations against the Human Papilloma Virus last year. It’s a total of three shots over 6 months. Under Merck’s prescription assistance plan at Planned Parenthood, the vaccines cost $31 each/$93 total. (Without insurance, they’re pretty pricey, between $100-180 depending on your pharmacy and whether your MD prescribes the vial or the pre-prepared syringe.)

might already have HPV, since I was active for several years with more experienced partners before getting vaccinated. HPV is estimated to be the most common of all STIs. Studies of prevalence vary, but they generally agree that at least 30% of all women will have at least one form of HPV by mid-adulthood. Condoms may help, but will not fully prevent the transmission of HPV.

HPV is normally detected when a routine pap smears shows cervical abnormalities. The pap smear isn’t the official HPV test; there’s also a DNA test performed for high-risk women or those whose paps come back abnormal.  There are no FDA-approved HPV tests for men.

Most infected men and women will live out their happy lives completely unaware, but certain high-risk strains can cause genital warts and more disconcerting, cervical cancer.


At the Tea Party Debate, Michele Bachmann spun a second-hand story of HPV vaccine causing mental retardation, which several fact check sites and doctors everywhere debunked immediately.

The point of her story, of course, was to draw ire to Rick Perry’s unpopular HPV vaccination mandate for girls entering middle-school. On February 2, 2007, Texas became the first state to enact a mandate-by executive order from the governor that all females entering the sixth grade receive the vaccine, with a parental opt-out option. The state legislature disagreed, overturned the mandate with H.B. 1098, and at that point, Perry withheld his veto.

Rick Perry’s rebuttal during Tea Party debate included the statement that he only received a $5,000 donation from HPV vaccine maker Merck. But that figure only refers to funds donated by Merck’s political action committee during Perry’s re-election campaign. The Washington Post finds that Perry’s campaigns have received almost $30,000 from Merck since 2000 and the drug maker has given $380,000 to the Republican Governors Association (RGA) since 2006—which Perry chaired twice and has contributed around $4 million to his campaigns. One of Merck’s top three lobbyists in Texas is Mike Toomey, Perry’s former chief of staff.

Toomey’s mother-in-law, the former Texas state Rep. Dianne White Delisi (R), was a state director for Women in Government, another organization heavily funded by Merck.


I fainted for a few seconds during my first shot. I had been told to eat before coming in to prevent this side-effect, and I did eat a McMuffin meal but had finished it only a few minutes before I arrived at the clinic. That was obviously not enough time to get my blood sugar levels up.

Passing out during a shot is an example of a vasovagal response, an automatic nervous system response to needles going into your skin. Compared to other intramuscular injections, Gardasil has an increased risk of this fainting, also called syncope. For the next two shots, I ate at least an hour before going in and the shots went peachy. No light-headedness at all.

In terms of pain, this shot was worse than the flu shot, but not nearly as bad as the meningococcal vaccine I had to get for college in New York.  I would recommend it to all sexually active ladies, because I’m sure paying $93 is nothing compared to cervical cancer.

Information Is Beautiful finds that the HPV vaccines are extremely safe. (Nice infographics too.)


3 thoughts on “The Facts Behind the HPV Vaccine Debate and Rick Perry’s Merck Ties

    • Haha. That reminds me of something I read yesterday: Michelle Malkin had a blog post titled “Yes, Cancer Sucks. But…” I was like, “Really? Who needs to put a qualifier after “cancer sucks”?

      I think the post was about the responsibility of getting health insurance, but I couldn’t help mentally finishing the title for her.

      “Cancer sucks. But puppies are born every day!” “Cancer sucks. But Barack Obama is sucking the marrow from your aborted babies!” “Cancer sucks. But I don’t have it! Sucks to be you, not-Michelle Malkin cancer victims!”

  1. What’s extra icky about this whole thing is that it feels like Bachmann was trying to tap into the MMR vaccine autism madness with her mental retardation bit, which is such an awful and even dangerous bit to stupidity to stir up. I’d say I’d lost respect for her and that I was surprised, but…you know, it’s Bachmann.

    If nothing else I can be glad that most notable Republicans are putting some serious distance between themselves and her, and that even the likes of Rush Limbaugh are calling out this stupidity.

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