In Focus

Perry office's emails on vaccines put in focus

Friday, September 16, 2011

Brought back to center stage after Monday's debate, Gov. Rick Perry's 2007 executive order to vaccinate Texas girls for HPV continues to kick up a political firestorm. But now it's attracting a different kind of criticism.

We scoured hundreds of emails on Thursday from Perry's office around the time the HPV decision was being made. We got them from an Austin watchdog. There aren't to many that are to or from Perry himself, but they do give a look at some of the work his staff was doing with drug company lobbyists.

When Governor Perry signed the executive order on a Friday morning in February 2007, it surprised virtually everyone.

"It came out of the blue really," said Craig McDonald with the Austin watchdog Texans for Public Justice.

McDonald started digging through Perry office emails and that revealed a team working for months on the order - at times coordinating with a lobbyist for the vaccine's manufacturer.

In August 2006, more than five months before the order was signed, Merck gave Perry staffers "updates on the vaccine." Emails mention meetings and lunches with the lobbyists and just days after the mandate was signed, the lobbyist is asked for "thoughts" on how to react to criticism.

"Not only was it a bad decision if you're a social conservative, it was decision that benefited a lobbyist who's extremely close to the governor," McDonald said.

The emails also show the strange allies the decision created. Calls to the governor's office were running 8-1 against his decision, but Chris Bell - who at that moment was Perry's defeated democratic opponent - praised Perry saying, "This is about protecting women's health, not about politics."

Four years later though, it's a political battle and tonight another Perry opponent is opening another front.

"These laws and these mandates are not being made based on science; they're being made based on political contributions," 2010 gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina said.

Medina ran against Perry in 2010 and says HPV isn't his only vaccine problem. She's referring to a law the legislature just passed mandating a spinal meningitis vaccine for all incoming college freshmen. And more than that, Medina says, it may be time for Texas to evaluate all vaccines it mandates for school children.

"Should the state force my kids to get vaccines?" we asked Medina.

"No, Ted Oberg ought to make that decision as a parent of those children, probably in consultation with your private physician," she said.

The controversy, she says, shows Perry isn't as conservative as he claims to be.

"His action on vaccines and other areas demonstrate that he really doesn't believe that we're capable of doing that and we've got to have the government there as our nanny," Medina said.

Medina, who is still active in Texas politics, is also a nurse. She's not saying don't vaccinate your kids, but that the state shouldn't mandate them.

We checked with Dr. Amy Middleman at Texas Children's Hospital's Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research. She doesn't talk politics, just medicine and she says mandates are good policy, have been for years and they've been shown to work. And getting rid of them runs counter to all scientific data.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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