For years, the Left has clung to the bogus conversational meme that conservatives are antiscience. This is, of course, a lie - the Left is every bit as antiscience when it's 31,000 scientists denying anthropogenic global warming or links between abortion and depression.
Alas, since the Left mostly controls the media narrative, a wise politician will try to avoid walking into it. Unfortunately, both Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann, while busy taking potshots, backed into the "Republicans are anti-science nutjobs!" buzzsaw.
There was a time when the invention of vaccines were welcomed with glad cries. After a few hiccups, the smallpox vaccine was welcomed as a major boon to mankind; no less a luminary than Gen. George Washington commanded mandatory inoculation of his troops. Jonas Salk's polio vaccine not only saved the lives and livelihoods of countless millions of children, it has virtually eliminated polio from the earth.
Unfortunately, it is a simple medical fact that a tiny percentage of people have severe allergic reactions to vaccines and die. Thus, it is perfectly true that, on rare occasions, vaccination directly kills otherwise healthy kids.
Why do we tolerate this? Because not vaccinating kills a far vaster number of people. This was understood as far back as the Revolutionary War with smallpox:
A limited trial showed that 6 deaths occurred out of 244 who were vaccinated (2.5%) while 844 out of 5980 died of natural disease (14%), and the process was widely adopted throughout the colonies.
Improving the mortality rate by 12 entire percentage points - not a 12% improvement, but 12% of the entire population that would otherwise have died - would seem to be a Big Win. Certainly our ancestors thought it waas a big enough win to require everyone to be vaccinated regardless of how many died from adverse reactions.
Unfortunately, mega-epidemics are so far in the past that everyone save scientists and historians have forgotten all about them. I know a now-older couple who decades ago visited a pediatrician when she was expecting her first child. A few minutes into the conversation, the then-elderly doctor reacted in shock. He said, "You're expecting your child to grow and thrive. You're expecting him or her to be healthy. You take that for granted!"
He explained that when he started practice in the early years of the last century, his entire job and only goal was to keep the babies alive - between a third and a quarter of the newborns didn't make it despite his best efforts. "Today, you aren't worried about that ... and you're right!" he concluded.
Americans forget that there are societies in Africa that don't name children until they're three - only at that time dare they hope that they might get to keep the child, so it's worth the emotional investment of assigning a name.
In modern America, we've forgotten what a miracle it is that just about all our children live, so we obsess over ever-more-remote and even imaginary risks. The risk of a bad vaccine reaction is not imaginary, but it's so remote that it almost might as well be. Compared to the very real and appalling death rate in a world without vaccines, only a cretin or someone with evil intentions would say or do anything that might persuade people to avoid life-saving vaccinations.
On to the facts of the case! As Governor of Texas, Rick Perry has authority over which vaccinations are required for entry into public schools.
This is absolutely constitutional. Let us quote:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. [emphasis added]
If President Perry tried to require national vaccinations, it would be just as unconstitutional as Obamacare or Medicare; the Constitution grants the federal government no authority over public health. The Constitution specifically reserves that power, along with everything else not assigned to the Feds, to the states.
Texas law in turn delegates that authority to the Governor. Gov. Perry chose to exercise this authority in keeping with Constitutional law and Texas statute.
In 2006, Merck received FDA approval to offer the very first vaccine that protects against cancer, specifically cervical and penile cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Alas, being new and having survived the FDA's billion-dollar review process, Gardasil was quite costly.
Gov. Perry saw a dodge: under Texas law, health insurance companies are required to cover all vaccines that are required for public school attendance. By adding the new HPV vaccine to that list, it became free to anyone covered by health insurance. Presumably more kids would get it, and thus lives would be saved.
Isn't this interfering in private family choice? Not really: in Texas, "required" does not mean required. If you don't want your kid to have a "required" vaccine, all you have to do is sign a form saying that you, the parent, don't want it done, and that's that.
Not one single Texas child is ever forced to have a vaccination opposed by the parents; all they have to do is sign a form saying "No thanks." And there's always the option of home-school or private school, to which public-school regulations don't even apply.
So we agree with Gov. Perry's decision? Not actually: how on earth does any government authority have the right to command a private company what it must pay for? The goal was to get children vaccinated, which is good, but the means was by forcing unrelated private companies to pay for it. It didn't help that Perry had close family connections to Merck, which stood to make a fortune if the entire state of Texas got the jab.
The end result? Gov. Perry reconsidered his decision and allowed the legislature to override it before it even went into effect. At the time he grumbled, but in more recent years there have been serious questions about just how safe and effective Gardasil actually was.
Just as well, then, that the power of the state wasn't used in providing it to kids, as Gov. Perry himself recognizes:
I signed an executive order that allowed for an opt-out, but the fact of the matter is I didn’t do my research well enough to understand that we needed to have a substantial conversation with our citizenry... I made a mistake on that. [emphasis added]
How often do you hear a politician admit to making a mistake and learning from it? What's more, this mistake was corrected so quickly that it harmed not one single person. We should be so lucky with the rest of the mistakes government makes every day.
To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong. That should never be done. It's a violation of a liberty interest. That's -- little girls who have a negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug don't get a mulligan.
Far worse, she said:
There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine.
By all medical and scientific knowledge, that is physically impossible, but even if it wasn't, the research clearly shows vastly more lives saved than harmed by vaccines in general and even Gardasil in particular. Plus, let us repeat, not one person was ever forced to have the vaccine against their parents' will!
By adding the force of her celebrity and respect to anti-vaccine nutjobs, Michelle Bachmann's unwise and imprudent words will inevitably lead to deaths.
Arguing that state government should have nothing to do with public health or vaccinations is a legitimate position, though in our opinion a mistaken one. Saying, falsely, that vaccinations lead to retardation and implying that they are unsafe and hurt more people than they help, is grotesquely irresponsible and craven. Michelle Bachmann should know better!
The only winner out of this exchange of garbage was the Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media, who can now once again gleefully paint all Republicans as anti-science ignoramuses while discouraging small-state conservatives and disgusting the wavering middle. Thanks a bunch for this spectacular own-goal!
Let's hope that Gov. Perry hasn't vaccinated himself against getting elected; it certainly looks like Bachmann has.