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Pushing anti-cervical cancer vaccine for schoolgirls.

Bypassing the state legislature, Texas Governor Rick Perry issued an executive order on February 2 making Texas the first state to require that schoolgirls as young as 11 get vaccinated against the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

The order would take effect at the start of the 2008 school year, requiring girls entering the sixth grade to receive a series of three injections of Gardasil, a new vaccine that protects against four strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV. The cost per patient would be $360.

Gardasil is manufactured by the pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., which has been advertising Gardasil extensively in TV ads. The governor's action immediately provoked controversy and raised questions about a potential conflict of interest stemming from the relationship between Merck and personnel connected with the governor.

One of Merck's three lobbyists in Texas is Mike Toomey, Governor Perry's former chief of staff. Perry's current chief of staff's mother-in-law, Republican state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, is a state director for Women in Government. Perry also received $6,000 from Merck's political action committee during his reelection campaign.

The Associated Press noted that Merck is funding nationwide lobbying efforts to enact state laws across the country mandating Gardasil, which could generate sales in billions of dollars. Following closely in the wake of Texas, legislators in Florida have introduced legislation that would require every 11- and 12-year-old girl in the state to get the Gardasil vaccinations.

Aside from the conflict of interest, the mandatory vaccine program has been criticized by conservative, pro-family organizations on both moral and scientific grounds. Carol Griffin, of the pro-family Eagle Forum organization, expressed strong misgivings about the Florida legislation, asking: "What's the message here in Florida? It looks like they're trying to increase the sexual activity of our young girls."
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Title Annotation:Inside Track
Publication:The New American
Date:Mar 5, 2007
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