Rick Perry's Gardasil U-Turn: Here's What Actually Happened Back in 2007

Last Updated Aug 18, 2011 4:29 PM EDT

Texas governor Rick Perry has disavowed his decision to mandate Merck (MRK)'s Gardasil HPV vaccine for schoolgirls in Texas back in 2007 -- now that he's a candidate for president and needs the votes of the religious right to get the Republican nomination.

Some conservatives believe Perry's about-face is genuine -- he's thought about it and now admits it was a mistake. The Family Research Council is now "satisfied" that Perry's sudden interest in HPV was based on Perry's "concern with protecting human life" at the time.

But a trip in the Wayback Machine shows that this is actually a case of Perry being hoist on his own petard: He tried to be a good Republican by doing what big business lobbyists paid him to do and now finds that conflicts directly with what the good Republicans of the anti-vaccine religious right want him to do. He cannot have it both ways, so he's chosen the latter.

Here's what actually happened in Texas in 2007:
  • Merck gave $6,000 to Perry's election campaign fund as part of a national lobbying effort to persuade states that it ought to require Gardasil as one of the vaccines all kids should have before attending school.
  • Merck funded an astroturf movement called Women in Government. The Texas state director of WIG was Republican state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, Perry's then-chief of staff's mother-in-law.
  • Merck's Texas lobbyist at the time was Mike Toomey, Perry's former chief of staff.
  • Toomey is now one of Perry's most important fundraisers, heading the Make Us Great Again PAC for Perry in Austin.
  • According to the Perry Administration's internal emails, Perry's staff were aware at the time that the Texas mandate would benefit only one company, Merck:

Brandon LeBlanc, the governor's community affairs public liaison, forwarded to fellow senior staffers an article quoting critics' who "point out that the legislation right now benefits just one pharmaceutical firm, Merck & Co."

"Please give the number of the poor little pharmaceutical firm that thinks this is unfair," he quipped.

That number was zero, as Merck at the time held the only FDA approval to market a vaccine for HPV.

Perry's U-turn on Gardasil is a step-change to the right: Despite the cynicism and bag-running involved in the 2007 decision to mandate HPV vaccines for girls, it will save lives. Fewer of those vaccinated girls will get HPV or the cervical cancer it leads to, and fewer of their partners will get HPV or the head, neck, oral, penile and anal cancers it also causes.

Gardasil has been proven safe. The one headline associating sudden death with the drug turned out to have nothing to do with Gardasil. The fact that Perry has had to change his mind in order to appease a constituency that prefers superstition to science, and disease over health, tells you how powerful the extreme right-wing of the Republican party has become.

Related:
Image by Gage Skidmore, CC.

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