Fundamentalist Christians and Anti-Vaxxers: A Toxic Combination

The anti-gay crusaders and Friendly Atheist stalkers at the Illinois Family Institute decided to try their hand at interpreting scientific papers, and the results are predictably disastrous.

Their unfortunate incursion into the scientific literature involves the HPV vaccine. The vaccine protects against Human Papilloma Virus, a sexually transmitted infection that is the leading cause of cervical cancers, as well as a cause of anal cancer. The CDC recommends the vaccine to all pre-adolescents (around ages 11-12).

In a rational world, this would be just about the most non-controversial thing on the planet. But it turns out that for some people there is something worse than cervical and anal cancer: Sex.

The thinking goes like this: If you vaccinate pre-adolescent girls against a sexually transmitted infection, they will take it as an invitation to have sex! Because I guess all your average 11-year-old needs is some vague suggestion that she will one day have sex in order to liberate the barely-contained sexual demon within her…?

This comically absurd idea has led some parents to refuse to give their daughters the potentially life-saving vaccination. Incidentally an actual study of the subject has shown that receiving the vaccine has exactly zero effect on the sexual habits of girls and young women.

The explosive combination of vaccination and sexuality has led outfits like the IFI to augment their usual religious fundamentalism with a shot of anti-vaxxer alarmism. Under the headline “Teenage Girl Becomes Infertile after Gardasil Vaccination”, the IFI tries to play up a case report of a young woman who suffered “premature ovarian failure” (with symptoms similar to menopause) at age 16, sometime after having received Gardasil, which is the commercial name for the HPV vaccine.

They say:

Her report explains that the girl’s menstrual cycles were regular until she received the Gardasil vaccination in the Fall of 2008. By January 2009, her cycle had become irregular. Over the course of the next two years, her menses became increasingly scant and irregular, until by 2011, she had ceased menstruating altogether.


While Dr. Little could not confirm that Gardasil caused the destruction of the girl’s reproductive system, she was able to rule out all other possible causes. The circumstantial evidence implicating Gardasil is strong.

The dates on these events don’t seem very strong at first blush, considering that the vaccination and the appearance of the very first symptoms are months apart. However, if in fact all other causes were ruled out, there may be some cause to at least give it a second look. Pity for the IFI that this isn’t what the report says at all:

The diagnostic tasks were to determine the reason for her secondary amenorrhoea and then to investigate for possible causes of the premature ovarian failure identified. Although the cause is unknown in 90% of cases, the remaining chief identifiable causes of this condition were excluded.

Let’s translate: 90% of the cases of premature ovarian failure have unknown origin. The doctor in this case was able to rule out any of the causes making up the remaining 10% of known causes, which means this girl is now a part of the remaining 90% for whom the cause is unknown. Though I’m certain the folks at the IFI aren’t exactly experts at reading scientific papers, this is not a difficult concept. Their article states that all factors aside for the vaccine were ruled out as causes, which is an outright falsehood.

The report itself is somewhat odd. It does seem to want to suggest a possible link between the vaccination and the illness. The first author, Dr. Deidre Little, is a religious activist listed as the contact person in a website for pro-life obstetricians. Though this would go some way towards explaining her motivations for this report, it does not invalidate the report itself. Case reports have their place in medical research. If, as is exceedingly likely, there is no relationship between the HPV vaccine and premature ovarian failure, more case reports of the same phenomenon will fail to materialize and life will move on. In the event that there is some as yet unidentified link between the two, a significant number of the millions of girls and young women being vaccinated will develop the condition, and an increased incidence will be observed in girls with the vaccine. This would then be reported and resources will then be dedicated towards serious study of the possibility.

This is the proper course of research if what you are interested in is the increased health of patients. The IFI does not have that agenda. They will happily misrepresent research in order to alarm parents about the HPV vaccine so that their vision of sexual morality can carry the day. If the price is a few dead girls, so be it.

(image via Shutterstock)

About Claudia

I'm a lifelong atheist and a molecular biologist with a passion for science and a passionate opposition to its enemies.

  • Isilzha

    Yes, but they’ll die when they’re old and not worth as much!  Only the virgins have value, don’t ‘cha know?!

  • JohnnieCanuck

    They have even more value to the fundies before they’re born. They’ll do anything, say anything to protect them at that stage. Untarnished souls, you see. After that, not so much.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    What we really need is a vaccine against religion…..
    oh, wait, yeah…. the internet!

  • Silver_fox-trot

    Huh. Why do I get the feeling that those fundies would blame my POS (Poly cystic  Ovary Syndrome) on all those mean vaccines I had as a child and that because of that Syndrome I can go a year or more without a cycle, unless I take medication.

    The irony is that the medication I need to take is the Pill.

    Hopefully they don’t assume that because of those two factors that I go around my university campus sleeping with anything with a dick that may or may not be moving because the chance of getting pregnant, and thus bring to myself the suffering that I somehow deserve because my ‘ancestor’ Eve made her husband/brother/father eat an apple in a garden.

    It’s also doubly ironic because I knew since I was a preteen that I was asexual. :P

  • Stev84

    Fundies simply need some sort of punishment for having sex. They don’t just STDs as rightful punishment, but also pregnancy. So they are against contraception and sex education for the very same reason.

  • Sindigo

    I’m amazed that we haven’t seen legions of religious people banning their kids from the internet. Then again, maybe they are. How would  we know? ;)

  • Holytape

    [Insert Christian Fundy Concerned Voice Here] But don’t you know that if little innocent girls don’t have to worry about getting Human Papilloma Virus and thus killing their future husbands and kids in a sea of devil STD’s, those innocent little girls will become wanton harlots and sluts.  It’s in the bible.  A greatly increased risk of STD’s and deadly cancer is a necessary trade-off to protect these little girls.   Why do you hate these innocent future sluts so much? [end Christian Fundy Concerned Voice]  

    Aside note, you always have to wonder how such ideologues make it through medical school.   I’ve known several doctors, whose basic grasp on science was so tedious that it made me wonder if they slept through high school.   Yet, because they have a MD they felt as if they were complete qualified to speak on any scientific field.     

  • curtcameron

    “The thinking goes like this: If you vaccinate pre-adolescent girls against a sexually transmitted infection, they will take it as an invitation to have sex!”

    It’s not just girls – my two sons, ages 15 and 12, have had the HPV vaccine. It’s recommended for all kids.

    And if they’re concerned about their kids knowing what the vaccine is for, why would they even tell them? They can just tell their kid that they have to be vaccinated for HIB, DTP, MMR, HPV, and Meningitis. There’s no reason that anyone has to explain to their 11-year-old that HPV is a sexually transmitted disease.

  • Compuholic

    They are. I know two families where the parents are extremely religious (one might say fundamentalist). They strictly limit internet access for their kids. One family is using web filters and the other family only allows their kids to use the internet under supervision (and I’m sure it’s not hard to imagine what the parents would say to atheist websites).

    I would be surprised if those were isolated cases.

  • Sindigo

    Of course they are. I realise now how stupid my comment was. To be honest, I can’t blame them. I’m a new father and I will be strictly limiting my kids’ internet access. However, those limits will not be set on religious and political websites.

  • Jason Horton

    How many girls have had this vaccine? Let me google…. As of 1 September 2009 there have been more than 26 million doses distributed in the United States. So one girl has a reaction some time after the vaccine, 1 in 26 million, and they come out of the woodwork to report “danger, sin” like a bunch of scaremongering lunatics. In fact, according to the CDC: 15,037 Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) reports following the vaccination.Ninety-two percent were reports of events considered to be non-serious (e.g., fainting, pain and swelling at the injection site (arm), headache, nausea and fever), and 8 percent were considered to be serious (death, permanent disability, life-threatening illness and hospitalization). There is no proven causal link between the vaccine and serious adverse effects; all reports are related by time only. That is, they are only related because the effect happened some time after the vaccination.

    To summarise then someone who has the HPV vaccine has approximately a 1 in 1729 chance of having an adverse reaction, no worse than some people get from a plaster or a blood test. 1 in 21613 people have reported a worse reaction and only after a certain amount of time (3 to 6 months) and these have no causal link to the actual vaccine. That means that of 26 million vaccines administered none have been shown to cause more harm than a headache and a pain from the injection itself. For this the Illinois Family Institute are willing to put the lives of millions of people at risk from a preventable illness.

    What a bunch of asshats.

  • Isilzha

    Don’t worry, most of those kids are learning how to get around the filter undetected.

  • Jeff P

    To get through medical school, one has to be really good at memorizing and regurgitating facts.  Thinking and reasoning skills are not quite as important in becoming a doctor.  Those are only important in being a good doctor once you start practicing.

  • pRinzler

    “Fundies simply need some sort of punishment for having sex.”  

    Aren’t there a lot of BDSM communities around that they could use?

  • Helanna

    There should really, really be some type of add-on for that pop-up. I’d install it on my sister’s computer. 

  • Silo Mowbray

    Let’s be specific. Fundamentalists want to punish WOMEN for having sex. The only sex a woman may have is with her husband, and she will be a virgin when she marries him, and she won’t enjoy sex except for a little bit with her husband, and she definitely won’t see any other men as attractive. That’s the “way it’s supposed to be”, with thanks to Rick Santorum.

    Of course, men can have sex outside of marriage, but that’s with women who are sluts and trollops and those women won’t end up being married anyway because they’re spoiled goods and what decent family-oriented man would want to marry one of THEM?

    Fuck you, fundamentalists. Fuck you with a barista’s milk steamer up your collective ass.

  • Silo Mowbray

    I think the word you might’ve meant was “tenuous” instead of “tedious”?

    Anyway, an old joke, to highlight the point you made: What do you call a medical student who graduates at the very bottom of his/her class?


  • Matt E


    The BDSM community punish while having sex because they find the punishment pleasurable.

    Fundamentalists punish after having sex because they found the sex pleasurable.

    ; )

  • pRinzler


    And, thanks for correcting me, I was very bad and need someone to correct me.  ; )

  • Matt Eggler

    I’m glad it was good for you too.. ; )

  • pagansister

    That group probably  believes that the vaccines that babies get causes Autism too!  Let’s just take a chance that they can get cervical cancer and not worry.  If they happen to get a cervical cancer when they are older,then praying to god will cure it.  NO vaccine for HPV for you female child.  Wait—since they won’t be having sex until they are married, then all is well.  Their mate will be free of any STD’s—no problem.  There!  That is all solved now.   

  • David Kopp

    Even better than limits? Teach your kids how to think and take care of themselves. Then you don’t need to be the authoritarian, and they can become independent, functioning adults ;) Yes, when they’re young you want to make sure they aren’t exposed to ideas too far beyond their ken, the kinds of things that nightmares are made of, but I’ve never found a good reason to otherwise block information. Teach them to think for themselves and you won’t have another thing to worry about.

  • Ashton

     No need.  Just make a website that says that and then make it the homepage.

  • Royal_sapphire

    This article is so far out in left field it’s an embarrassment. Our daughter was disabled by the HPV vaccine, with very little help from any medical groups out there. This article is very biased as it lumps Christians and acceptable losses of human life into one group. Clearly someone has not read the latest research findings on the very real dangers of the HPV VACCINES! Doctors Shaw and Tomljenovic have brought to light the lack of true dangers of these vaccines.

  • Royal_sapphire

    Sorry – meant to say the lack of research on the very real dangers of the HPV vaccines on the market. Also Dr Sin Lee has proven there are rDNA particles piggy backing the Aluminum adjuvant in this vaccine as well.