Michele Bachmann has been catching flak for comments she made about vaccines this week, comments which put her into the same qualified-to-lead-America camp as Jenny McCarthy.

Monday night, Bachmann went after Rick Perry for an executive order he signed in 2007 mandating that girls entering sixth grade be vaccinated against cervical cancer. Specifically, the vaccine fights HPV, human papillomavirus, which kills thousands of American women, forces tens of thousands more to have surgery, or can cause genital warts.

Bachmann attacked Perry because the company that first made the HPV vaccine, Merck, donated money to his gubernatorial campaign, somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000. While there are valid points to be made about political campaigns being financed by corporations that want a quid pro quo, that’s the less important part of this controversy.

Perry, who is so wrong on other science issues (evolution!), was absolutely right to sign that order. Unfortunately, the Texas legislature blocked Perry’s order from going into effect. Some of the opposition was because HPV is transmitted through sexual contact, and it’s hard to think of sixth graders having sex, but the vaccine doesn’t encourage 12-year-olds to have sex, it protects them when they do get around to that physical act — an inevitability even if their parents are Republicans. At the debate, Bachmann combined the kid card with a typical Tea Party anti-government line: “To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection, is just flat out wrong.”

Government injection. She makes it sound like the National Guard would round up pubescent girls, march them off to a state agency, and forcibly vaccinate them against their wills. The fact is, these injections are administered by the girls’ pediatricians, just like the vaccines for mumps, measles, rubella, diptheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, chicken pox, and polio — all of which are already required by Texas law for children attending school!

Imagine the backlash if Bachmann had attacked Perry over the vaccines for polio or measles. Even Tea Partiers would toss her off the debate stage.

But that’s still not the worst part. That came Tuesday morning, when Bachmann was asked about her remarks on the “Today” show by Matt Lauer, and she reinforced her anti-vaccine argument by saying that a woman had come up to her in tears after the debate in Tampa and told her “that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. It can have very dangerous side effects. This is the very real concern and people have to draw their own conclusions.”

NO. People don’t have to draw their own conclusions about science, especially in a country that’s bordering on scientifically illiterate. The HPV vaccine does NOT cause mental retardation, which is a developmental disorder. There is no evidence of a link. Moreover, the HPV vaccine has been administered 35,000,000 times since it was approved five years ago and proven very effective, with an excellent safety record, according to the president of the American Association of Pediatrics, and its use is recommended by the Centers For Disease Control for the prevention of most types of cervical cancer.

Bachmann defended her mental retardation remarks later Tuesday by saying, “I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist, I’m not a physician. All I was doing is reporting what this woman told me last night at the debate.” She’s obviously not a scientist, but she is a United States Congresswoman (to the everlasting shame of Minnesotans), and when she say things like that out loud, many people who don’t know better will believe her. Repeating this kind of nonsense does not make it true, but it can cost lives. We already have too many people who refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated against any disease because they fell for the long-debunked garbage linking vaccines to autism.

Bachmann must apologize for spreading misinformation, and from now on leave the rumor-spreading to TMZ and the science to the CDC.

As Anderson Cooper pointed out last night on CNN, this is just the latest in a serious of blatant lies Bachmann has been telling, just to score political points…

For more on the danger of Bachmann’s remarks, read this piece by Dr. Art Caplan, director of the Center For Bioethics.

Updated at 2:12PM…Art Caplan and University of Minnesota bioethicist Steven Miles are offering $11,000 for proof of Bachmann’s claim that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation.