Why Gardasil doesn’t bother me for Perry

Anecdotal, perhaps, but here’s a story that illuminates something of the story behind the kerfuffle.

Until you’ve seen a special photograph, Craig Wilson says you don’t know the whole story of Rick Perry’s HPV vaccine decision.

“She’s happy as hell. I mean, she is just unbelievably ecstatic,” Wilson said. “Here she is on a beautiful ranch somewhere, riding on a motorcycle, which she’s never really done, with the governor of the state of Texas.”

The guy driving the motorcycle is Governor Rick Perry. The young woman on the back is Houstonian Heather Burcham, who was at that moment just 31 years old and a few months away from dying of cervical cancer.

Heather said in an interview prior to her death, “I feel like I’m not going in vain, because I can tell others about it.”

The article also touches on the thin charges of crony-capitalism with regard to the Merck exec’s donations.

Also, the notion that it wasn’t safe, as Michelle Bachmann contended, doesn’t jibe with the reality of the FDA’s testing and approval. Avik Roy lays into Bachmann’s rather odd attacks that smelled of desperation.

Pretty much every sentence in this passage is false. No one was “forced to have a government injection.” As I noted above, people could opt out of the never-implemented program. And Gardasil, Merck’s HPV vaccine, went through a rigorous, FDA-approved program of clinical trials and manufacturing inspections, with the weight of the evidence indicating that it is far more “dangerous” to go without the vaccine than to take it. Is it also “flat out wrong” that innocent 2-month-old babies get the diphtheria vaccine?

It gets worse. In media appearances following the debate, Bachmann claimed, all evidence to the contrary, that HPV vaccines can cause “mental retardation.”

The sensitivity around the HPV vaccine comes from the fact that HPV is sexually transmitted. And Perry attempted to respect that legitimate concern by allowing parents to opt out of the program. But to me, Bachmann’s inflammatory, fact-free rhetoric is reminiscent of the campaign against fluoridation of the public water supply: something that some in the 1950s considered a “communist plot to undermine public health.”

I generally oppose communist plots to undermine public health, but fluoridation didn’t turn out to be one. Neither will Gardasil. If anything, it’s Bachmann who is undermining public health by scaring people away from vaccines that prevent cervical cancer.

This last was courtesy of a wonderful new daily digest of the best of the previous day’s news and news commentary, The Transom, which is assembled by my friend, the brilliant, and brilliantly witty, Ben Domenech.

Considering that the plan did have an opt-out, it was legitimately aimed at saving lives rather than taking over people’s health care decisions, it was another vaccine like so many vaccines we are required to get, and that I no longer accept that it was even arguably a “go be promiscuous now” card, I can’t muster any outrage or even concern over the Gardasil call on Perry’s part.

I still haven’t worked out the immigration issue and his support for Giuliani in ’08, but Perry is presently looking to me like the best GOP candidate.



  • P Sarver

    of course Perry said that he regretted the executive order and wish he had done it differently.He’s a politician.He’s running for President.What else could he say?Michelle Bachmann was not incorrect in most of what she pointed out-she made 1 error in quoting a woman’s story she didn’t verify.Other than that she and Santorum were correct in their criticism of Perry. He came out as the presumed front runner without being questioned at all.He’s been in 2 debates since and has not been very impressive.Heads up.I did not vote Obama in 2008 because of his questionable background and being pro abortion.I am still baffled as to why he got the Catholic vote at all.

    This time i am backing Herman Cain 100% and he has always been consistently pro life.
    I would also like to request this poll be passed around to see where the Catholic vote is going this time.
    Further i will be honest and admit it is because we are trying to form a coalition of Catholics for Cain.

    • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

      No, P Sarver. They were not correct in their scare-mongering about vaccinations and “the government needle.” And it is not so easy to say “he’s a politician so he’ll say anything to get elected” about Perry. He has not backed off his immigration position, which may well sink his candidacy, and while he has tried to clarify what he meant he has not backed off what he said about Social Security and Medicare—two issues on which he is getting hammered. That he so clearly and quickly said, “it was a mistake,” regarding Gardasil is not so easily tossed aside.

  • Smiling Doc

    1-anything controversial -if it’s even legitimate to mandate – should be opt OUT, so one doesn’t unintentionally end up being mandated to do something they’re totally opposed to. (Think of having to opt out your kindergartener from being taught about same- sex pairs / pseudo-marriage (or something that you’d find controversial).
    2-the main source of outrage is likely the age of the girls involved; if they had tried to do this with 16 and 17 year olds, there’d have been a significant resistance to it, but there wouldn’t have been this visceral outrage that occurred at the time that this otherwise record-backed pro-life governor (leaving aside prior mention of capital punishments meted out) decreed this mandate.
    3-the vaccine had only been out 7 months and the FDA does get it wrong re: safety and efficacy sometimes; mandating, not merely encouraging but mandating a drug that’s been on the market for so short a period is inappropriate, particularly when there should be no apparent urgency given the low expectation that 11 and 12 yo girls would soon be having sex. Michelle bachmann may regret having repeated that woman’s story that her daughter developed a cognitive issue (“mental retardation”) after being injected with gardasil, but if Rick Perry desrves a pass on his rush to compel the vaccination of 11-12 year olds against an STD, surely Michelle Bachmann can be as quickly forgiven for passing along, without first vetting, what a woman told her moments earlier.
    4-Re: story of the Texas woman who died of cervical cancer but wanted everyone to know about the vaccine (not yet on the market when if could have helped her)/befriended by Rick Perry:’ apparently they didn’t meet until after the TX legislature voted to rescind Perry’s executive order mandate; thus she was not the inspiration behind him losing his head and doing such a Big Brother thing as issue his decree.
    5-there’s much more wrong with his gardasil mandate but will leave it at that. The main thing that I think shouldn’t be done is that that shouldn’t be regarded as appropriate on his part. Maybe he gets a pass on this matter, but he’s on probation for it! Good that he said it was a mistake the way he handled….but it’s concerning that he would even think like that in the first place. Big Governmentish…and then as someone else said,what’s up with his having endorsed Guiliani in 2008? Guili’s law firm was supposed to have represented the Trans-Texas Corridor promoters/beneficiaries around that time…..that would be more worrying to me than the degree of Merck donations and potential undue influence from the money re: gardasil..

    [Apologies for any typos.]

  • Pamela

    I have one point though. Perry said he couldnt be bought off for $5k, and yet the money trail says that it was more like $28k he got for his campaign, and when he was head of the Republican Governors, they gave more that $330k. So that is a lot of money that he procured. I would say follow the money trail. It’s not going away.

    • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

      Pamela— Perry raised more than $40K from the infamous Merck exec, as I understand, over his 10 years as governor. I’m not sure about the $330K, unless you mean Merck gave that amount to the RGA while he was there. A few thoughts on all that: how many other candidates got money from Merck? $40 grand really is not that much when you consider he raised millions for his campaigns over 10 years. Was what Perry supposedly did “for” Merck in “payback” for the contributions an objectively bad thing a-la Solyndra? Or might this genuinely be a coincidence? Wealthy people donate to candidates; wealthy people attend fund raisers and have access; wealthy people have opinions; wealthy people have vested interests in many private sector enterprises that will be mightily affected by the decisions of politicians; politicians cannot make every decision with the first rule being avoidance of any and all semblance of an appearance of impropriety. All this does not, of course, say the relationship you suggest is impossible, but it rather is the reason I don’t get worked up about these gotcha-style “follow the money” angles until evidence comes out that the alleged hand-out from the government official stunk from the start and is obviously a political payoff, a-la Solyndra.

      • Tom


        Tim Carney over at the Washington Examiner has done fantastic work over the last few years exposing the connection between govt. officials and corporations. I think it would be very naive to think–regardless of how much money Perry received from Merck–that his connection with the Merck lobbyist was not the major contributing factor in the gardisil flap. CA is now looking at mandating gardisil (without having to inform parents). Merck is doing some serious lobbying. Call me cynical.

        • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

          Tom — Then call me naive. That does not make it so. I am aware; I read Carney’s stuff. He’s great at keeping track of these things and pointing out possible impropriety or downright scandal. My point is that I find it difficult to get worked up when the policy generated from such relationships is not objectively problematic on its own merits. If a wealthy person who runs a company who donated to a politician’s campaign comes along with a really, truly, genuinely good idea I think it would be folly not to go along with it to some degree simply because the person is a contributor and there could be a suggestion of political payback. While Michelle Malkin got a bit foamy at the mouth over the potential scandal of the Merck/Perry connection, after reading her piece, reading other stuff, and considering it all, I still believe Perry’s biggest mistake was opting for an executive order mandate with an opt-out rather than a major push for an opt-in and assistance where needed. I’m sure you disagree. That’s fine.

          • Tom

            Hi Tom,

            “My point is that I find it difficult to get worked up when the policy generated from such relationships is not objectively problematic on its own merits.” Well, this is where we fundamentally disagree. I realize you will protest this, but ultimately you espouse some sort of lightweight nanny state. I think that is bad for the family, and the govt ought to stay out of it. Constitutionally, I think Texas (at least from a federal perspective) could mandate this and pretty much anything else without a problem *universal health care in Texas)…but we’re still not really getting to what the proper role of govt is.


  • Tom


    Seems to me that most of the comments here are missing a key point. You wrote in your previous post: “The error, of course, was making the vaccine mandatory with an opt-out rather than completely voluntary with heavy subsidies and a strong public awareness campaign. Make the vaccine available at a greatly reduced rate, perhaps free for some.” Is this really the proper role of govt, to take tax money from folks in order to subsidize an HPV vaccine? Why stop at the HPV vaccine?

    This sort of collectivism is, I think, ultimately very damaging to family.


    • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

      Tom — I disagree. Vaccines are of a different order than, say, abortions, or many things that don’t rise to that level. We can, and ought, as a society help those who legitimately do not have the means to acquire basic needs. I think vaccines that are known to prevent disease can fall under that without engaging the slippery slope. And if anything, helping out in this manner will help families because the end result will be less of the health problems HPV can cause, which will save lives and improve women’s quality of life. I don’t see this as a dangerous collectivist practice.

      • Tom


        I tried posting this earlier, but it didn’t work for some reason, so apologies if a double post pops up. It seems your principle is GOVT ought to help those who can’t acquire basic needs (I have to wonder why you classify an HPV vaccine as a basic need, but I digress). Not family. Not neighbors. Not Churches. But the govt. I can’t understand how you can look at how dependent on govt. we’ve become as a society and how deadly that has been to the family and then so blithely cast aside the argument (“I think vaccines…can fall under that without engaging the slippery slope argument.” How does one even apply your “principle” that govt should help people acquire basic needs? How do you define basic? Who defines it?

        The is the problem when we don’t have serious discussions about what the real role of govt. should be. I have a hard time understanding how what you’ve laid out squares with subsidiarity.

        • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

          Tom— (Quick note on commenting: Comments enter a queue and are approved one at a time, sometimes by the site administrator and sometimes by the author of the post. in this case I was away for a long time and the administrator didn’t see your earlier post. I just saw your second post, so I’m responding to this one and deleting your earlier one since you raise the same questions.) ———— If the family or churches or neighbors can help out, great! I’m all for it. I don’t want government involved in anything more than it legitimately needs to be involved in. If churches and families and neighbors launch legitimate programs to assist with public safety, sanitation, and road upkeep then those should be devolved also. If they launch legitimate vaccine programs, whether or not Gardasil is included, fantastic. But vaccinations and immunizations against certain health threats is one area where I think the government can legitimately get involved in requiring certain things, with an opt-out for those with reservations. Who determines what is a legitimate basic need? Who determines what is required and what is not? Those duly elected by We the People and those whom they appoint, of course, so ultimately we do. Some would argue that Obamacare and the single-payer system Obama prefers are justified under subsidiarity; a healthy majority of us disagree. Subsidiarity is a principle, not a clearly defined constitution for a government and society, and thus is open to interpretation in application. I think you and I agree on more than we disagree.

          • Tom

            Tom, you suggested in your previous post that it legitimate for Govt to set up programs to provide for “basic needs” You indicated that an HPV vaccine would fall under this (what about an AIDS vaccine, btw?). I think you are dead wrong on this particular point: govt. with threat of force, takes my money, and gives it to others for an HPV vaccine to protect women who generally wouldn’t need the vaccine if they followed Catholic teaching on sexual ethics (if I am misunderstanding what the vaccine is for, then my apologies). Seriously?

            There is so much more to talk about here in terms of rights and responsibilities, your sanguine attitude about the how it is really we the people who are controlling these things (600 people making these kinds of decisions for a nation of 300 million people? I don’t think that’s what the founders had in mind), etc. etc. Maybe we can have a longer discourse in another combox. I will just leave with the fact that if you look at what has happened to the American family since the time of the the New Deal and then with the war of poverty, you can’t possibly conclude that govt. providing more and more “services” to the most needy among us has been anything other than deadly to the family.

          • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

            Tom— And you can think that I am dead wrong. I don’t think you’re dead wrong, just that we have a difference of opinion on the exact place where the lines of subsidiarity are drawn. ——— Here’s a scenario: what of a girl who did follow Catholic teaching perfectly and maintained her virginity until marriage. Her husband had one slip-up in high school and had pre-marital sex. He confessed it, repented, wore a hair shirt, fasted, etc. But unbeknownst to him he contracted HPV from the girl. Now on his wedding night he infects his virginal bride. Had she gotten the vaccine this would not matter. Now, as I mention to Kathryn in another thread, this does not mean a mandatory vaccine is ipso facto the way to go, but it does suggest a public health benefit of the vaccine. If something can reduce or eliminate a cancer, why the heck not make it more widely available through whatever means are reasonable? ———— I’m not advocating for “more and more ‘services.'” Recognition that some services are legit while others are not does not equal endorsing all services that have come before. ——— At any rate, I’m going to be on radio silence for the next four days. I expect a lot more will be said in that time and I’ll have to do a lot of back reading.

          • Smiling Doc

            I have to strongly agree with the other Tom on his point about governments (= us taxpayers) paying for gardasil vaccinations amounts to collectivism and should be rejected. Santorum accurately distinguished vaccinations against diseases that are transmitted from person to person by just being in the same room as someone, eg fellow classmates, and diseases that are transmitted sexually. There is no way that the taxpayers should have to subsidize other people’s sex lives, or perhaps more accurately I should say, pay to insulate them from the consequences of their choices in sex partners – especially not sex lives of 6th graders!!………..As far as your conceivable but somewhat far-fetched example of the virginal bride being saved from hpv that her husband contracted during his sole indiscretion while back in high school, he can pay for his fiance’s vaccination post-engagement,okay? HIS mistake, let HIM clean up his own mess – it’s not for the uninvolved taxpayer to protect every citizen ( or illegal alien) against every possible eventuality! ……… Something that may not be known to non-medical folks discussing this is that cervical cancer was ALREADY deemed fully preventable in the pre-gardasil vaccine days. This is because cervical cancer doesn’t just develop overnight. It takes years – and one of the chief reasons regular pap smears have long been urged is to enable early detection, ie when PRE-cancerous cell changes have occurred. So, while it might be nice to have some vaccine-induced protections against SOME of the strains of the human papilloma virus that cause cervical cancer, it’s NOT at all the only chance to prevent cervical cancer from developing, much less claiming one’s life; nor can gardasil prevent all cervical cancers…… It should be available, not paid for by the taxpayers (or insurance companies) under any decreed mandate.

  • Mr H

    If I had written this post, it would have been titled “Why I would never vote for Rick Perry: Because he executed 235 human beings and he doesn’t lose sleep over it.” Even I lose sleep when I think about that, and I had nothing to do with it.
    Aren’t Catholics supposed to be pro life and stuff? Or are you only “pro life” when it comes to fetuses and people who want to die with dignity at the time and place of their own choosing? Priorities, people!

    • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

      Mr H — — Really? He personally executed 235 human beings? He did it all on his own, at his own discretion, acting as judge, jury, appellate court, clemency board, and executioner? He did all that on his own? The answer, of course, is no. Why you assume those 235 executions were necessarily unjust and then lay them exclusively at his feet truly is puzzling. —— Priorities are important, but so are facts and the conditions surrounding the actions of individuals.



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