Rick Perry: Using a Cancer Victim for Political Gain

An article in the Examiner this week focuses on Texas Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Perry, who is currently getting a lot of criticism because he issued an executive order mandating that sixth grade girls receive Gardasil, the vaccine against HPV, in February 2007. At the time, Gardasil was still a relatively new vaccine, and studies had still not been completed as to its effectiveness and safety.

In fact, as we have written on this blog, there are questions about its safety even today – Gardasil is linked with a number of adverse effects, including Guillian Barre Syndrome (GBS), a devastating illness that attacks the nervous system and can lead to paralysis, and even death, and there is reason to believe that adverse reactions are particularly likely when the vaccine is administered at the same time as Menactra, a meningococcal vaccine. As Vicky Debold, PhD, RN, and NVIC director of patient safety told the Examiner, “Our analysis of Gardasil reports to VAERS [the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System] indicates there was a two to twelve times greater likelihood that serious adverse events, such as GBS, were reported when Gardasil was given in combination with Menactra rather than given alone.”

Why Rick Perry mandated the vaccine is unknown. We do know, however, that he received over $30,000 in campaign donations from Merck, the vaccine’s manufacturer. Since this issue has gained increasing media coverage, Perry has attempted to draw attention away from this fact. Most recently, during the Republican debate on Thursday, he claimed that his decision was greatly affected by a 31-year-old women who was dying of cervical cancer: “I got lobbied on this issue. I got lobbied by a 31 year old young lady who had stage 4 cervical cancer,” he stated. “I spent a lot of time with her. She came by my office. She talked to me about this program. I readily admitted we should have had an opt-in but I don’t know what part of opt out most parents don’t get and the fact is I erred on the side of life and I will always err on the side of life as a governor as a president of the United States.”

However, as the Examiner points out, this is not entirely correct. Heather Burcham, the young woman he referred to, met Perry after he first issued the executive order, while she was lobbying the Texas legislature to uphold the governor’s executive order. The legislature ultimately ruled against it.

In other words, Governor Perry used a dead woman to justify his vaccine mandate, which violated the rights of parents to choose for their own children’s well-being and which advocated for a drug that had still not been proved safe or effective. Whatever Heather Burcham’s feelings on the vaccine mandate, she did not, and does not, deserve to become a mere tool in a politician’s grab for money and power at the expense of individual liberty.

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