Perry Says Gardasil Order a ‘Mistake’ but Not a ‘Mandate’

By Erick Hamme | September 13, 2011 | 8:02pm EDT

Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a Republican presidential candidate debate at the Reagan Library Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011, in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

(CNSNews.com) – Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who found himself on the defensive during Monday night’s GOP presidential debate in Tampa, said that his 2007 executive order mandating all teen girls to be vaccinated with Gardasil was a mistake – but it wasn’t a mandate.

Perry told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the debate moderator, that the order was a mistake.

Blitzer had asked the Texas governor: “Gov. Perry, as you well know, you signed an executive order requiring little girls 11 and 12-year-old girls to get a vaccine to deal with a sexually transmitted disease that could lead to cervical cancer. Was that a mistake?”

“It was,” Perry replied. “And indeed, if I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently. I would have gone to the Legislature, worked with them. But what was driving me was, obviously, making a difference about young people’s lives.

“Cervical cancer is a horrible way to die. And I happen to think that what we were trying to do was to clearly send a message that we’re going to give moms and dads the opportunity to make that decision with parental opt-out.

“Parental rights are very important in state of Texas. We do it on a long list of vaccines that are made, but on that particular issue, I will tell you that I made a mistake by not going to the legislature first.

Gardasil was approved by the FDA in 2006 as a way to combat cervical cancer, which kills nearly 4,000 women annually.

The drug vaccinates against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is believed to be the cause of 3 out of 4 cases of cervical cancer. HPV is also the most common of all sexually transmitted diseases.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) scolded Perry over his decision, pointing out that the 2007 executive order mandated that all girls receive the HPV vaccination Gardasil prior to their admission to the sixth grade.

“I’m a mom of three children, and to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong,” Bachmann told Perry. “That should never be done.”

But when Blitzer subsequently asked: “Was what you signed into law; was that—as some of your critics have suggested -- a mandate?” Perry responded: “No, sir it wasn’t. It was very clear. It had an opt-out. And at the end of the day, this was about trying to stop a cancer and giving the parental option to opt out of that.”

In fact, the executive order, which Perry issued Feb. 2, 2007, states: “The Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner shall adopt rules that mandate the age appropriate vaccination of all female children for HPV prior to admission to the sixth grade.”

However, it also added: “The Department of State Health Services will, in order to protect the right of parents to be the final authority on their children’s health care, modify the current process in order to allow parents to submit a request for a conscientious objection affidavit form via the Internet while maintaining privacy safeguards under current law.”

The language seems to indicate that the current law would need to be modified in order to allow parents to submit a request to gain conscientious objector status. The executive order does not guarantee an opt-out or use the term.

Bachmann, meanwhile, went on to highlight the governor’s relationship with the pharmaceutical company that makes Gardasil, Merck and Co, claiming: “We cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order there is a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate.

She added: “We can’t deny that -- because the governor’s former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong. The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?”

The governor responded by saying, “It was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million. And if you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.”

Merck and Co has donated nearly $30,000 to the Perry campaign since 2000, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports.  Bachman was referring to Perry’s former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, who served as one of Merck’s three lobbyists in Texas.

In a 2007 copyrighted story, the Associated Press reported: “Merck is bankrolling efforts to pass laws in state legislatures across the country mandating (its) Gardasil vaccine for girls as young as 11 or 12. It doubled its lobbying budget in Texas and has funneled money through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators around the country.”

According to AP: “Perry has several ties to Merck and Women in Government. One of the drug company's three lobbyists in Texas is Mike Toomey, his former chief of staff. His current chief of staff's mother-in-law, Texas Republican state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, is a state director for Women in Government.

The story added: “Toomey was expected to be able to woo conservative legislators concerned about the requirement stepping on parent's rights and about signaling tacit approval of sexual activity to young girls. Delisi, as head of the House public health committee, which likely would have considered legislation filed by a Democratic member, also would have helped ease conservative opposition.

To conservatives and pro-lifers, the Gardasil issue is a question of parental rights and personal responsibility. Unlike diseases for which there are required immunizations, HPV is a sexually transmitted disease – not a disease that can be acquired by sitting in a classroom.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of June 22, there have been a total 68 deaths reported among those who received Gardasil -- 54 females, 3 males and 11 of unknown gender. There have been 213 cases of permanent disability

Perry rescinded his executive order on Feb. 10, 2011, along with five other executive orders.

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