Rick Perry Admits Mistake on Gardasil-HPV Vaccine Decision

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 15, 2011   |   10:40AM   |   Washington, DC

On his first day on the campaign trail, Texas Gov. Rick Perry admitted he made a mistake on the sole issue some pro-life advocates bring up as a concern despite his sterling pro-life record.

Perry, in a conversation with a New Hampshire voter, walked back his decision to mandate the vaccine Gardasil to 11-year old girls. According to a Politico report, a voter confronted him on the issue — explaining his remorse for the decision and indicating he put an opt-out provision in place allowing parents to decide not to have their young girls receive the vaccine.

Perry explained that, in his zeal to protect children, he went too far.

“I signed an executive order that allowed for an opt-out, but the fact of the matter is I didn’t do my research well enough to understand that we needed to have a substantial conversation with our citizenry,” he said. “I hate cancer. Let me tell you, as a son who has a mother and father who are both cancer survivors.”

“I hate cancer. And this HPV, we were seeing young ladies die at the early age. What we should have done was a program that frankly should have allowed them to opt in, or some type of program like that, but here’s what I learned — when you get too far out in front of the parade they will let you know. And that’s exactly what our legislature did.”

UPDATE: “I made a mistake on that,” Perry told Iowa Radio later in the day Monday, calling it “an error in not having a conversation with the people of the state of Texas.”

“I agreed with their decision. I don’t always get it right, but I darn sure listen,” he said of the legislature responding to his decision.

“One of the things I do pride myself on, I listen. When the electorate says, ‘Hey, that’s not what we want to do,’” Perry told Houston’s ABC affiliate on Monday. “We backed up, took a look at what we did.  I understand I work for the people, not the other way around. There was a better way to do that, I realize that now.”

The explanation and apology seems to be going over well with pro-life advocates so far, as Joshua Mercer of CatholicVote.org praised Perry in a blog response, calling Perry’s decision to address the issue head on with an apology “good housecleaning.”

“As I said earlier, his executive order easily could have hurt him with Catholic and evangelical voters,” he wrote. “Had Rick Perry not addressed this issue, Michelle Bachmann surely would have pounced on it. I’m glad the Texas Legislature overruled Perry. And I’m glad that he calls it a mistake.”

The mandate for girls to get vaccinated against the cervical cancer-causing HPV virus came in 2007. The Gardasil drug was developed by Merck to prevent the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the most commonly-transmitted sexual disease in the U.S. that is responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases and 90% of genital warts. The drug was initially hailed as a breakthrough and received approval from the FDA, prompting governors and state legislators to promote the drug, as when Perry signed the order for all 6th grade girls to receive the vaccination.

At the time, Perry said the reason for the order was to stop cancer, not because he favored telling parents what to do.

“In the next year, more than a thousand women will likely be diagnosed with this insidious yet mostly preventable disease,” said Perry then. “I challenge legislators to look these women in the eyes and tell them, ‘We could have prevented this disease for your daughters and granddaughters, but we just didn’t have the gumption to address all the misguided and misleading political rhetoric.'”

The original order did include an opt out, “in order to protect the right of parents to be the final authority on their children’s health care” as Perry ordered the Texas Department of State Health Services to allow parents dissenting for philosophical or religious reasons to request a conscientious objection affidavit form. That form, which has been available since 2003, enables parents to enroll their children in public school even if they lack state-required immunizations. It’s automatically granted as long as parents provide all required information.

According to the Department of State Health Service’s 2008-09 immunization report, which uses data from kindergarten and seventh-grade students at 1,300 independent school districts and 800 private schools, 0.28 percent of the students filed conscientious objection forms.

However, pro-life advocates and conservatives reacted strongly to the mandate and said the only way young girls would get the disease is if they engaged in sexual activity — prompting a call for more promotion of abstinence education, which Perry favors, instead. After the outcry, Perry allowed a bill to become law that the Texas legislature approved to backtrack on the decision, making it so young girls are no longer required to get the vaccine.

Despite the HPV vaccine dustup, Perry has compiled a stellar pro-life record and received A grades from the two top pro-life organizations in the state for signing and promoting numerous pro-life bills and working closely with them to promote life.