- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry’s chief of staff met with key aides about a new vaccine against cervical cancer on the same day its manufacturer donated money to his campaign, documents obtained by the Associated Press show.

Texas became the first state to require the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), or genital warts, which can lead to cervical cancer, earlier this month, when Mr. Perry issued an executive order requiring it for girls entering sixth grade. The Texas Legislature is considering overriding the measure.

A calendar for chief of staff Deirdre Delisi obtained under Texas’ open-records laws shows she met with the governor’s budget director and three members of his office for an “HPV Vaccine for Children Briefing” on Oct. 16. That same day, Merck & Co.’s political action committee donated $5,000 to Mr. Perry and a total of $5,000 to eight state lawmakers.

Perry spokesman Robert Black said the timing of the meeting and the donation was a coincidence.

“There was no discussion of any kind of mandates,” Mr. Black said.

Mr. Perry’s mandate is opposed by religious and social conservatives, who say it contradicts Texas’ pro-abstinence sex-education policies and intrudes too far into families’ lives, though a provision in state law allows parents to opt out of the vaccine for their daughters.

Opponents also say the shots are too new and too costly to force on girls. The Washington Times reported yesterday that the vaccine’s five-year window of known protection means that vaccinating preteens would not yield major benefits, because the average cervical cancer patient is 47 years old.

Merck had waged a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign to get state legislatures to require 11- and 12-year-old girls to get the three-dose vaccine against the virus that can cause cervical cancer as a requirement for school attendance. It announced Tuesday that it was suspending those efforts.

Critics have questioned Mr. Perry’s ties to the company. Mike Toomey, Mr. Perry’s former chief of staff, lobbies for Merck. The governor accepted a total of $6,000 from Merck during his re-election campaign, including $1,000 in December 2005.

According to Mrs. Delisi’s calendar, she met with Mr. Toomey three times in the six months before the order was issued. One meeting happened in August — on the same day two other Perry staffers met with a different Merck lobbyist for a “Merck HPV Vaccine update.” The other meetings were just after the November election and just before the legislative session began in January.

Mr. Black said he did not know what the two discussed. He said the pair have been friends for years and pointed out that Mr. Toomey has many clients other than Merck. He also insisted that the governor did not decide to issue the mandate until well after the election.

Cathie Adams, president of the conservative Texas Eagle Forum, said Mr. Black’s explanation of the timing didn’t sound right.

“We have too many coincidences,” she said. “I think that the voters of Texas would find that very hard to swallow.”

Merck spokesman Ray Kerins said he could not comment. Calls to Mrs. Delisi and Mr. Toomey were not returned.

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