The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Why Did the Vaccine Controversy Surprise Perry Then - and Now?


This morning, debate continued to rage on Twitter and in comments sections about Gov. Rick Perry’s proposal requiring Texas schoolgirls to be vaccinate with Gardasil, a drug that can protect against four strains of human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer.

On Twitter, I tried to encapsulate why this decision by Perry seems so incongruous with the rest of his image and reputation: “I want to make Washington’s big government inconsequential to your life. Also, I’m giving your 11-year-old daughter an STD vaccination.”

Corner contributor Drew Cline, editorial page editor of the Manchester Union Leader, asked a fair question: “If there were a vaccine to prevent AIDS, herpes, or any other STD, would it be controversial to mandate it at the state level?”

Putting aside the question of potential side effects of vaccines – which are almost inevitable, and vary greatly by drug and population – I think any mandatory vaccination for STDs would be controversial, particularly if it’s done before sexual activity traditionally/usually begins, i.e., 10 and 11 year old girls. I’m not saying that parental outrage or objections are necessarily right or justified, just predictable. Perhaps these parental objections deserve a bit of sympathy instead of blanket condemnation of naivete, as it’s tough for parents to contemplate their preteen girls (or boys!) being sexually active at any point in the coming years. Lawmakers who want to enact something like this ought to proceed with extraordinary sensitivity to parental concerns about these matters.

Back in 2007, Perry seemed to blunder his way through the decision (he’s a Texan, how could he not predict that some parents would have problems with this?) and as I said, even last night it seemed like he couldn’t quite grasp why anybody would give him any grief over his decision, since his motives were so noble throughout his decision-making process.

Maybe it’s a one-off. But Perry would help himself a great deal if he could respond to critics of his decision with genuine empathy, instead of “at the end of the day, I am always going to err on the side of life” or “what was driving me was, obviously, making a difference about young people’s lives”  or “what we were all about was trying to save young people’s lives in Texas.”

UPDATE: The issue may quickly turn into a lose-lose proposition for both Perry and his primary attacker from last night, as Michele Bachmann appears to be suggesting – or at least unskeptically repeating the claim -  that the vaccine can cause retardation.

Tags: Rick Perry


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