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The right and wrong way to talk about Gardasil; Update: A really, really stupid attack on Palin

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By Michelle Malkin  •  September 13, 2011 11:42 AM

A month ago, I was “fringe” for spotlighting Rick Perry’s Gardasil problem.

As I said then, it’s not just a “single-issue,” one-off problem. It’s about his instincts, judgment, non-apology apology, and ethics.

For everyone still catching up, here’s my column from a month ago.

Now, Gardasil is the search word of the day. And there’s a new development.

After successfully highlighting Perry’s troubling abuse of executive power during last night’s debate, Michele Bachmann risks blowing it with some factually inaccurate assertions.

She’s RIGHT on the principles, wrong on some of the details.

She needs to stay on message and stick with the facts.

The Texas state legislature repealed the order (over Perry’s hysterical objections) before any girl was forcibly vaccinated.

And while individual stories of Gardasil harm may or may not be true (Bachmann cited a mother who thinks the vaccine caused mental retardation in her child while making the post-debate rounds), it’s not the primary case she should be making.

Again: Bachmann is RIGHT on the principles, but it gets dicey citing cases where individual anecdotes need to be vetted before tossing them out on TV. She came dangerously close to using the same demagogic tactics Perry employed in obstinately defending the order even after it was repealed. Reminder:

Trampling the deliberative process. Since Day One, President Obama has short-circuited transparency, public debate and congressional oversight. How can Perry effectively challenge the White House’s czar fetish, stealth recess appointments, selective waiver-mania and backdoor legislating through administrative orders when Perry himself employed the very same process as governor?

Not only did Perry defend going above the heads of elected state legislators, but his office also falsely claimed the legislature had no right to repeal the executive order. “The order is effective until Perry or a successor changes it, and the Legislature has no authority to repeal it,” Perry spokeswoman Krista Moody told The Washington Post in February 2007.

When both the House and Senate repealed the law six weeks later, Perry did not — as he now claims — listen humbly or “agree with their decision.”

Human shield demagoguery. In response to the legislature’s rebuke, the infuriated governor attacked those who supported repeal as “shameful” spreaders of “misinformation” who were putting “women’s lives” at risk. Borrowing a tried-and-true Alinskyite page from the progressive left, Perry surrounded himself with female cervical cancer victims and deflected criticism of his imperial tactics with emotional anecdotes.

He then lionized himself and the minority of politicians who voted against repeal of his Gardasil order. “They will never have to think twice about whether they did the right thing. No lost lives will occupy the confines of their conscience, sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.” Perry, of course, has now put his own ghastly Gardasil order on that same altar — but with no apology to all those he demonized and exploited along the way.

The point is that Perry rushed to mandate the Merck-pushed order less than 8 months after it had received FDA approval. Clinical trial and safety data was extremely limited at the time. And scientific assessments are still coming in about the long-term and synergistic effects of this and other vaccines.

The Merck push is still ongoing in other states, as I’ve reported. California is pushing forward with legislation making it possible to dispense the shots through the state to children as young as 12 without the permission of their parents.

If Obama sponsored a Gardasil mandate law, took Merck money and had a staffer-turned-Merck lobbyist, it would be an issue.

Hillary Clinton lobbied for Gardasil while Merck sat on hubby’s Global Initiative board. Conservatives cared back then. Pay-for-play still matters, especially when our children are involved.

There IS a middle ground between “absolutist anti-vaccine hysteria” and mindless, unquestioning support of Nanny State.

I am not an Jenny McCarthy-esque loon for taking the time to assess the massive shot schedule & deciding what’s right for my kids and when.

It’s not “freaking out” to highlight parental sovereignty issues. And this is not merely a “social” issue instead of an economic issue. It’s both. The debate over Obamacare is in large part a debate over the limits of government in private health decisions. This is of a piece.

***

Update:

Former Hot Air alum and former Texas state GOP communications director Bryan Preston, now at Pajamas Media, notes that during the tenure of Sarah Palin (who rightly criticized the appearance of crony capitalism in the Perry/Gardasil debacle last night), Alaska took federal funds to expand access to Gardasil:

( Juneau, Alaska) ─ The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced today that an increase in federal funding will make it possible for all Alaska girls ages 9 through 18 to receive Gardasil ®, the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, at no cost.

Preston writes:

This isn’t quite the same thing as mandating (and being overturned on, so it didn’t actually happen) a vaccination, but taking federal funds for Gardasil doesn’t quite square with Palin’s hot shots at Perry on Fox last night. I admire Sarah Palin quite a bit (and Bachmann too), but aligning herself with Bachmann’s precious bodily fluids gambit is a huge mistake on her part. Both of them are flaming their own credibility over an issue that, in the grand view of things, ought not to matter much. It hasn’t mattered much to some of the most conservative voters in America, over three gubernatorial elections running now. Both Palin and Bachmann are coming off as ill informed, unreasonable and desperate.

It “isn’t quite the same thing as mandating.”

Gee, no. Ya think?

It’s a freakingly obvious night and day difference — Perry’s MANDATE on families and the MANDATE on insurers going over the heads of the state legislature versus the Palin administration’s decision to accept federal subsidies to increase access to those who choose to take it. (Note: Gardasil is not and never has been mandated in the state of Alaska.)

Preston also objects to indirect costs imposed by the Palin administration’s program on taxpayers outside the state.

Newsflash: The Perry executive order would have ordered Texas health officials to use federal Medicaid funding to cover the vaccine for young women — a cost that would have been borne by millions of taxpayers outside Texas.

As for the gobsmackingly ridiculous claim that this revelation about Palin makes her guilty of the crony capitalism Perry is marinated in, another flashback:

Pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., responding to pressure from parents, pro-family organizations, and medical groups, announced on February 20 that it was immediately suspending its lobbying campaign to persuade state legislatures to mandate that adolescent girls receive the company’s vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cervical cancer as a requirement for school attendance.

A February 2 executive order by Texas Governor Rick Perry that made Texas the first state to require that schoolgirls as young as 11 get vaccinated with a three-dose regimen of Merck’s Gardasil before entering sixth grade had provoked a storm of outrage from pro-family groups.

A January 31 AP report that tied Merck & Co. to Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators around the country, added fuel to the fire by revealing a blatant conflict of interest. The report observed that a top official from Merck’s vaccine division sits on Women in Government’s business council, and members of Women in Government have introduced many of the bills around the country that would mandate compulsory Gardasil vaccinations. Merck had also admitted donating an undisclosed amount of money to lobbyists promoting such legislation.

A follow-up report by AP’s Liz Austin Peterson on February 21 noted that Governor Perry’s chief of staff, Deirdre Delisi, met with Perry’s budget director and three members of his office for an “HPV Vaccine for Children Briefing” on October 16, the same day that Merck’s political action committee donated $5,000 to Perry’s campaign.

A spokesman for the governor, Robert Black, described the timing of the meeting and the Merck donation as a coincidence, but Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, remains skeptical. “We have too many coincidences,” said Adams. “I think that the voters of Texas would find that very hard to swallow.”

Now, read this from the National Institute for Money in State Politics:

Among gubernatorial candidates who received contributions from Merck, Perry was second only to former California Gov. Gray Davis, who received $28,000.

Since the 2000 election cycle, the drug company has contributed $2.46 million to state-level candidates and party committees, doling their money out almost equally to both parties.

Democratic committees received just over $1 million and Republicans $1.4 million. Individuals employed by Merck gave an additional $2.5 million to state-level politics. Merck has helped finance races in forty states since the 2000 election cycle, when the Institute began collecting contribution data in all 50 states. Merck has focused intently on its home base, New Jersey, as well as giving in Florida, California and Pennsylvania. Combined, these four states have received more than $1 million from Merck, or 44 percent of the company’s total
contributions.

…At $360 for the three-shot Gardisal regimen, Merck could generate billions in sales if it is successful in its efforts to persuade the states to require the use of the vaccine.

MERCK CONTRIBUTIONS TO STATE POLITICS, 2000-2006
CYCLE TOTAL
2000 $550,894
2002 $764,126
2004 $641,082
2006* $504,250
TOTAL $2,460,352
* 2006 data collection is ongoing; totals may increase.

MERCK CONTRIBUTIONS BY STATE, 2000-2006*
STATE AMOUNT
New Jersey $317,600
Florida $256,000
California $251,439
Pennsylvania $249,775
Texas $158,143
Virginia $135,750
New York $118,025
Illinois $96,925
Ohio $93,570
Georgia $85,807
Missouri $57,500
West Virginia $52,250
North Carolina $48,000
Washington $47,850
Kansas $47,753
Arkansas $44,390
Louisiana $40,450
Kentucky $40,225
Alabama $36,000
Mississippi $31,700
New Mexico $31,300
Nevada $27,750
Oregon $27,500
Oklahoma $25,600
South Carolina $24,150
Utah $21,250
Indiana $17,000
Idaho $16,150
Maryland $13,650
Iowa $8,550
South Dakota $8,200
Colorado $8,100
Connecticut $7,250
Vermont $6,100
North Dakota $3,250
Nebraska $2,550
Delaware $1,350
New Hampshire $800
Maine $600
Montana $100
TOTAL $2,460,352

Note: Alaska does not appear on this list. It was never a lobbying target for Merck. Nor did Palin have an ex-chief of staff lobbying for Merck or a staffer’s mother-in-law serving as a state director of an advocacy group bankrolled by Merck to push legislatures across the country to put forward bills mandating the Gardasil vaccine for preteen girls.

Moreover, Palin is on record in 2008 e-mails expressing her general opposition to certain vaccine mandates.

It’s a pathetic and ill-informed act of desperation to try and turn the crony capitalism charge on Palin, which is a telling measure of how effective her voice is on this topic — and why so many would rather silence her.

***

The glibness with which Perry defenders dismiss the obstacles to opting out is disturbing.

A Time for Choosing provides a must-read reality check from the right-leaning Association of American Physicians and Surgeons:

For many families currently, the exemption isn’t worth the piece of paper it is printed on. Besides the simple fact that parents should not have to get permission from the state to make informed consent medical decisions for their own children, here are four reasons why “opting-out” of state mandated vaccines doesn’t work for many families in Texas:

“Opt-out” or Conscientious Exemption to Vaccination Process is a Bureaucratic Nightmare

To get the exemption form, parents must first submit a written form to State Health Department in Austin which forces the disclosure of the child’s full name, birthdate, and mailing address. The Health Department takes those written requests and creates yet another form on which they print the child’s same personal information that the parent had to send to health department, and the Health Department sometimes takes weeks to mail out these forms inevitably disrupting the child’s school attendance. The Health Department only sends the forms by U.S. mail, and once the parent receives the forms, they must be notarized within 90 days of submitting them and then repeatedly resubmitted every 2 years even though there is no expiration set in statute.

[1] Because the Health Department further eroded parental rights by publishing more rules getting rid of provisional enrolment for exemptions, (families used to have 30 days at the beginning of school to get their paperwork in), now schools participate in aggressive misleading education campaigns touting “no shots – no school” while not informing families of the exemption or the instructions how to obtain it.

Private Schools Deny Admission

The Texas attorney general issued an opinion in April of 2006, ga0420, that states that private schools do not have to accept the conscience exemption to vaccination in Texas Law[2], and many private schools do not. For example, the Dallas Diocese for Catholic Schools policy number 5024 states, “Schools will comply with immunization requirements established by the Texas Catholic Conference Education Department. Conscientious objections/waivers are not accepted in schools of the Diocese.” [3] Every new vaccine mandate causes more children with valid legal exemptions to be denied their private school education.

Doctors Refuse Medical Care

Even though you may be able to get a piece of paper from the state health department affirming your right to refuse state mandated vaccines for your child, just try and find a doctor who will honor it! According to a recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 39% of pediatricians surveyed said they would throw kids out of practices who are not vaccinated. [4] PROVE has documented this rampant problem of doctors dismissing families utilizing a vaccine exemption in Texas to the legislature in previous sessions. Please review our report entitled “The Erosion of Public Trust & Informed Consent through Immunization Harassment, Discrimination and Coercion” prepared for the House Public Health Committee in 2005. [5]

Insurance Rates Rise and Accessibility Affected

Responsible parents who have secured health care coverage for their children will be forced to pay higher insurance rates whether they want the HPV vaccine or not. Even if you “opt-out” of the HPV vaccine mandate for Gardasil by Merck by securing a conscientious exemption waiver, there is no way for Texas parents to “opt-out” of the corresponding rise in their insurance premiums. § 1367.053. (a)

(2) of the Insurance Code REQUIRES that any vaccine required be law must be covered by insurance. [6] This first-dollar coverage requirement results in corresponding direct hiking of insurance premiums to meet costs, and for a vaccine as expensive as this one, an HPV vaccine mandate risks putting premiums for basic health care coverage out of reach financially for even more Texas families. Additionally, we have received complaints from families where insurance companies are harassing parents with letters and discriminating on coverage based on whether or not the child has had all their state mandated vaccines.

***

As a sidenote, Perry lowballed the amount of money he took from Merck. See here.

And a final point: A friend points out that Perry supporters sabotage their own defense of Perry. If Perry was simply “erring on the side of life” and would simply have pursued the policy of increasing access to Gardasil in a different way, then he most certainly would have no objection to what happened in Alaska — e.g., making the vaccine available to people who wanted it without mandating it by acccepting existing federal dollars.

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