During the CNN Tea Party Debate this past Monday, sparks flew over an executive order issued by Governor Rick Perry in 2007 mandating an HPV vaccination for all sixth-grade girls. At that time, Perry was the first (and only) governor to issue such an executive order, bypassing his own state legislature, which would later overturn him. Gardasil is manufactured by Merck, a company which it turns out has a whole lot of ties to Rick Perry.
But the waging war in the GOP is not the only battle being fought over Gardasil. The media blitz which ensued after the GOP debate has opened the door for dialogue on school yards and social media amongst parents wrestling with what is best for their own daughter.
Many of my friends and colleagues are still struggling with the decision on whether to vaccinate their daughters. The reasons vary, but the primary are risks, necessity and advice. Since Gardasil was recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2006, we still do not know if there are long-term effects. As recently as 2009 (2 years after Perry's executive order), Gardasil was linked to a nerve disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. One friend wrote: Gardisil has too many open questions for me... and cervical cancer, while very very terrible, is rare. Others feel that their daughters are not sexually active as young teens, so there is no need to expose them to possible side effects. And finally, and perhaps most alarmingly, is the conflicting professional advice being given to parents. One mother wrote: My ob-gyn told me NOT to vaccinate --, but I wonder if that is the best advice. Her pediatrician was on the fence.
As we as parents wrestle with our demons, it's clear one person who did not: Rick Perry. Under the Public Information Act, POLITICO requested and received 700 pages of email correspondence which reveal that Perry was mostly absent from discussions on the vaccination and its consequences.
Here's what we also know: The Center for Disease Control approved the Gardasil vaccine in June 2006. In October 2006, Perry's Chief of Staff met with the governor's budget director and three members of his office for an HPV vaccine briefing. On that same day, Merck's PAC donated $5, 000 to Perry. In February 2007, Perry was the first governor to sign an executive order mandating Gardasil.
Although Perry sneered at this mere $5,000 donation at the CNN Tea Party Debate, that's the tip of a rather large iceberg. The Los Angeles Times reports that actually Merck had donated $28,500 to Perry since 2001, according to Texas Ethics Commission filings. Further, the Washington Post reports that since 2006, Merck has donated more than $380,000 to the Republican Governors Association, an association in which Perry played a major role, and which in fact ranks amongst Perry's largest donors: donating at least $4 million to his campaign since 2006.
But that's not all.
At the time of Perry's executive order, the governor had other ties to Merck as the drug company doubled it lobbying budget in Texas. One of the drug company's three lobbyists in Texas was Mike Toomey, Perry's former chief of staff. Further, Merck funneled money through Women in Government, an advocacy group whose state director was Rep. Dianne White Delisi, the mother-in-law of Perry's chief of staff at the time the executive order was signed.
In case you still have lingering questions about just how disinterested Rick Perry is in the welfare of young girls, you have to watch this: a recent interview of Perry by a local station on why Texas has the 3rd highest rate of teenage pregnancies. His non-command of facts and inability to answer the most basic of questions on the welfare of young girls in his state is both startling and appalling (skip to 1:30)
As an important side note, it is the women of the GOP -- columnist Michelle Malkin, Rep Michele Bachmann and Gov. Sarah Palin, all of whom are mothers -- who have spoken out about Perry and Gardasil. Their frame of reference as conservatives may be different than those of progressives, but interestingly here, we find common ground: the welfare of our daughters.
While conservatives and progressives will clearly disagree on the government's role in mandating vaccines, here's what we can agree on: Rick Perry did not have the best interest of our daughter's in mind at the time of his executive order.
And perhaps a solution we can agree on was one implemented by Palin who was governor of Alaska at the time Perry was signing his executive order. As an op-ed last Friday in The New York Times noted: Some of Sarah Palin's Ideas Cross the Political Divide. At that time, Palin did not mandate the vaccine, but did make it available to girls ages 9-18 at no cost. While the medical profession sorts out the benefits and risks of Gardasil, this solution at the very least has the best interest of our daughters in mind.