- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When Rick Perry signed an executive order in 2007 mandating young girls be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted HPV virus, the Texas governor brushed aside questions over the science underpinning his decision, concerns about parental rights and accusationsof cronyism between him and the drug’s manufacturer.

Though promptly overturned by the state Legislature, the order targeting 11- and 12-year-olds now appears to have been based on sound science. But only two other jurisdictions — conservative-leaning Virginia and liberal Washington, D.C. — have adopted similar mandates for schoolgirls to receive vaccinations to protect against the virus known to cause cervical cancer.

And now, as he runs for president, Mr. Perry is facing renewed questions over his decision to issue the order.

In a debate last week, former Sen. Rick Santorum said Mr. Perry should have made the vaccine available on an opt-in basis, rather than as a requirement for public school attendance, albeit with an opt-out. And Rep. Michele Bachmann said the governor had deep ties to Merck, the manufacturer of Gardasil, which in 2007 was the only HPV vaccine approved by the FDA.

At the time Mr. Perry signed the order, his former chief of staff was working as a top lobbyist for Merck and he had accepted a $5,000 campaign donation from the company, one of the world’s largest pharmaceuticals.

“The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong,” Mrs. Bachmann, of Minnesota, said.

Mrs. Bachmann took her criticisms a step further Friday, releasing a video in which she called the governor’s executive order “Perrycare.” “Whether it’s Obamacare or Perrycare, I oppose any governor or president who mandates a family’s health care choices,” she said.

Mr. Perry said he regrets enacting the policy through executive order, rather than going through the Legislature, but said he stands by the intent.

“At the end of the day, this was about trying to stop a cancer and giving the parental option to opt out of that,” he said at the debate.

He also said the $5,000 contribution did not influence him, though he didn’t address the role of his former employee.

When Mr. Perry signed his order in February 2007, Texas became the first state to issue such a requirement.

The drug had only been proved effective for five years, raising concerns that a girl inoculated at the age of 12 would no longer be protected by the time she was 18 and, presumably, more sexually active.

Since then researchers have demonstrated Gardasil to be effective forat least 8 years.

“All of the data that have been following the effectiveness in the women in the very first trials continue to show that immunity has not waned,” said Debbie Saslow of the American Cancer Society.

Mr. Perry’s executive order applied to all girls entering the sixth grade. It allowed an opt-out for parents who objected to the vaccination for reasons of conscience, including religious beliefs.

The move was attacked from the beginning. Republicans, who controlled the state Legislature, wondered why he was making an end-run around them, and conservative activists questioned the signals the governor was sending about parental rights and sexually activity. The focus soon turned to Mike Toomey, who had been Mr. Perry’s chief of staff and who at the time of the executive order was a lobbyist for Merck.

Amid those questions, state legislators balked and passed a bill to override Mr. Perry’s order three months after he signed it.

Mr. Perry was defiant, even as he allowed the bill to become law without his signature.

At a press conference he stood with cervical cancer victims and praised the lawmakers who had voted against the bill. “No lost lives will occupy the confines of their conscience, sacrificed on the altar of political expediency,” he said.

Mr. Perry’s stand, so far, has inspired few lawmakers to follow his lead — in Texas or elsewhere.

Two dozen states have considered legislation to require HPV vaccinations for schoolgirls, but only Virginia and Washington, D.C., have approved such measures.

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