August 17, 2011 — Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry is backpedaling from his 2007 executive order mandating that 11- and 12-year-old girls in the state be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, the Washington Post reports. Speaking to reporters over the weekend, Perry said it was a "mistake" to require girls to receive Merck's Gardasil HPV vaccine, which prevents the sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer.
"The fact of the matter is that I didn't do my research well enough to understand that we needed to have a substantial conversation with our citizenry," Perry said. Until this week, Perry has "staunchly defended" the vaccine mandate, according to the Post.
Many conservatives oppose the vaccine because they believe it will encourage promiscuity. "At the time that he did this, it just had everybody scratching their heads," said Andrew Wheat, research director at Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog group. Wheat added that Perry "wasn't known as a crusader for women's health. There's no explanation that seems to make sense other than that [lobbyist Mike] Toomey's got his ear and he got Perry to do this favor him."
Toomey, who previously was Perry's chief of staff, served as a lobbyist for Merck in 2007 and pushed for Texas to adopt the mandate. Meanwhile, the company launched a multimillion-dollar nationwide effort to encourage states to require the vaccine for their female students. Ultimately, only Virginia and Washington, D.C., adopted such mandates, according to Alexandra Stewart, an assistant professor of health policy at George Washington University.
While Perry's administration was considering the issue, Merck gave the governor a $6,000 contribution and backed a women's legislators group that supported the mandate. Toomey has since helped to found Make Us Great Again, a PAC aimed at boosting Perry's bid for the presidency.
Previously, Perry has cast the mandate as a "pro-life" move designed to protect women's health. At a May 2007 news conference, he stood alongside several women with HPV as he criticized the Legislature for overturning his order.
Perry campaign manager Mark Miner said Perry "has always stood on the side of protecting life, and that is what this issue was about. These allegations are false and have no merit" (Eggen, Washington Post, 8/16).