Bypassing the Legislature, Republican Gov. Rick Perry signed an order Friday making Texas the first state to require that schoolgirls get vaccinated against the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.While there are good reasons to be skeptical about the vaccine-- mainly that it's new-- this is certainly an unexpected move from a staunch conservative. Although Perry's ties to Merck do cast a certain pall on his motivations.
Beginning in September 2008, girls entering the sixth grade -- meaning, generally, girls ages 11 and 12 -- will have to get Gardasil, Merck & Co.'s new vaccine against strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV. (Vaccine meeting roadblocks nationally. )
Perry, a conservative Christian who opposes abortion and stem-cell research using embryonic cells, counts on the religious right for his political base. But he has said the cervical cancer vaccine is no different from the one that protects children against polio. "The HPV vaccine provides us with an incredible opportunity to effectively target and prevent cervical cancer," Perry said in announcing the order.
Perry has several ties to Merck and Women in Government. One of the drug company's three lobbyists in Texas is Mike Toomey, Perry's former chief of staff. His current chief of staff's mother-in-law, Texas Republican state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, is a state director for Women in Government.If we give him the benefit of the doubt, Perry is doing this because he believes that preventing HPV is good public health policy, not just to help line Merck's pockets. I'm sure there will be some parents who will op-out, as they have the right to do, overall this is certainly a move in the right direction as far as women's health is concerned. If I had a young daughter I'd get her in line for the vaccine.
Perry also received $6,000 from Merck's political action committee during his re-election campaign.
However, I've read in various places that the vaccine isn't covered by a lot of health insurance plans and costs $360. So I'm curious as to how this is going to be paid for, if there will be state money made available to assist low-income families, as it is different from most mandatory vaccines that are inexpensive and are made available to children without health insurance.