“What drove the governor on this issue was protecting life and nothing else,” Miner said.
Jerry Falwell Jr., chancellor of Liberty University, told the Texas Tribune on Tuesday that Perry is “probably one of the stronger candidates on social issues” and predicted that the vaccine controversy would not seriously damage his candidacy. “You can’t find any of the candidates who haven’t made a mistake in their past,” Falwell said.
In 2007, Perry became the first governor in the country to attempt to make the HPV vaccine mandatory. Some social conservatives objected at the time because they argued that it would suggest to young girls that having sex is acceptable.
One of Perry’s closest confidantes, his former chief of staff Mike Toomey, was then working as an Austin-based lobbyist for Merck, which was in the midst of a multimillion-dollar campaign to persuade states to make the vaccine mandatory.
Toomey, who has declined requests for comment, has since helped found Make Us Great Again, a pro-Perry super PAC that can accept unlimited donations from corporations and wealthy donors. The group plans to raise as much as $55 million to help Perry compete for the GOP nomination, according to media reports.
Merck officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday about the company’s donations to Perry but issued a statement defending Gardasil’s safety and effectiveness.
Reversing his position
Until he began running for president, Perry staunchly defended the vaccine mandate as a “pro-life” attempt to protect women’s health and sharply criticized social conservatives for their opposition. But Perry now says he made a mistake by not going to the legislature.
“If I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently,” he said Monday night.
Bachmann said at the debate that “to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat-out wrong.” She also criticized Perry’s ties to Merck: “The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?”
Bachmann upped the ante on her criticism Tuesday morning, relating an unsubstantiated claim from an audience member in Tampa that the vaccine caused “mental retardation” in her daughter. Medical experts note that people often wrongly attribute unrelated conditions to vaccines.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine in 2006 for girls as young as 9, and medical authorities recommended that they receive it at age 11 or 12 to protect them before they start having sex. Only the District and Virginia require its use.
The vaccine has been “tested in thousands of people around the world,” according to the Web site of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “These studies showed no serious side effects. Common, mild side effects included pain where the shot was given, fever, headache, and nausea.” Some girls who get vaccinated also faint, the CDC noted.
But some experts have said they are concerned that there is insufficient evidence about how long Gardasil’s protection will last, whether serious side effects will emerge and whether a reduction in infections will necessarily translate into fewer cancers.
Staff writer Rob Stein contributed to this report.
Read more on PostPolitics.com
Bachmann: Vaccine may cause ‘mental retardation’
Fact checker: The Texas showdown between Ron Paul and Rick Perry
White House pressed on $500M loan to solar company now under investigation