Rick Perry Changes Tune on HPV Vaccine After Announcing White House Bid

The Texas Governor signed an executive order in 2007 mandating the vaccine.

ByABC News
August 18, 2011, 1:18 PM

August 18, 2011 -- There was a break in Gov. Rick Perry's Texas swagger this week as he dialed back his previously unwavering support for the vaccine Gardasil, which protects against the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

The most recent entry into the 2012 GOP presidential field said this week that it was a "mistake" to issue an executive order in 2007 requiring all sixth-grade Texas girls to have the vaccine, which prevents cervical cancer, in order to attend public schools.

"I'm one of the first to say we didn't approach this issue right at all," Perry said Monday in an interview with Des Moines- based WHO radio. "We shouldn't have done it with an executive order. We should have worked with the legislature."

Perry's change of heart comes in the same week that he officially announced his candidacy for president.

"He's got to appease the far right to win the primary, then he's got to go back over the bridges he's burned" in order to win a general election, Farrer said.

But a Perry spokesman said the issue was about perserving life, a stance the Texas governor has maintained throughout his 10-year tenure.

"The Governor stands on the side of life and thats what this issue was about. The Governor erred on the side of life," said Pery spokesman Mark Miner.

Perry's decision to mandate the vaccine through an executive order instead of pushing the measure through the Texas legislature -- where it was unlikely to pass -- caused some people to question his motives, said Texas Democratic Rep. Jessica Farrar, who supported the vaccine mandate.

The legislature quickly overturned order, preventing it from being enacted, but prior to this week Perry had defended his decision.

Some argue that Perry's mandate had less to do with getting ahead of the curve on cancer prevention and more to do with his campaign donors.

Merck & Co., which at the time was the sole manufacturer of the HPV vaccine, contributed $6,000 to Perry's re-election campaign in 2005 and 2006, and Perry's former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, formerly worked as a lobbyist for the drug company.

"That's why his motives were questioned," Farrar said. "I don't even try to second-guess this governor. He has a pattern of doing things for large donors. Public policy is not at the front part of his mind. He's looking for votes and he's looking for campaign contributions."

Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner dismissed this week that criticism. "Governor Perry has always stood on the side of protecting life, and that is what this issue was about," Miner said Tuesday, according to the Washington Post. "These allegations are false and have no merit."

Perry was also sharply criticized by some conservative Republicans who said requiring a vaccine to prevent HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, would make young girls more sexually active.