Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed an order Friday making Texas the first state to require schoolgirls be vaccinated against human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer, the Associated Press reported.
Further details of the order were not immediately released.
Merck has been bankrolling efforts to pass state laws across the country mandating Gardasil for girls as young as 11 or 12.
According to the AP, Merck doubled its lobbying budget in Texas and has funneled money through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female legislators across the country.
Perry has several ties to Merck and Women in Government, the AP reported. One of Merck’s three lobbyists in Texas is Mike Toomey, Perry’s former chief of staff. His current chief of staff’s mother-in-law, Texas 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 re-election campaign.
Perry, a conservative Christian who opposes abortion and stem-cell research using embryonic cells told the AP that the cervical cancer vaccine is no different than the one that protects children from polio.
“If there are diseases in our society that are going to cost us large amounts of money, it just makes sense, not to mention the health and well-being of these individuals to have those vaccines available,” Perry said.
At least 18 states are debating whether to require the vaccine for girls as young as 11 or 12. A Michigan bill was narrowly defeated last month. Most have opt-out clauses for parents.
Merck would not say how much the company is spending on lobbyists or how much it has donated to Women in Government.
A company spokesperson told the AP, “We disclosed the fact that we provide funding to this organization. We're not in any way trying to obscure that.”
While this method of lobbying is common in state government, some conservative groups take issue. “It’s corrupt as far as I’m concerned,” said Cathie Adams, president of the conservative watchdog group Texas Eagle Forum.
Approved by the FDA in June, Gardasil protects girls and women against strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, that are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. A government advisory panel has recommended that all girls get the shots at 11 and 12, before they are likely to be sexually active. It has been shown to have no serious side effects.