AUSTIN, Texas – Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday said he won't veto a bill that would block state officials from following his order that all sixth-grade girls be vaccinated against a virus that causes cervical cancer.
The Republican governor accused the state legislators of politicizing the debate over his February executive order that required vaccinations against the human papillomavirus vaccine for girls starting in September 2008.
However, he acknowledged the Legislature's overwhelming disdain for his program and said he will allow the bill to become law without his signature.
"It is time to move this issue from the political arena to the court of public opinion where real lives are at stake," Perry said.
A veto almost certainly would have been overridden by Texas legislators, who have questioned the vaccine's safety, efficacy and cost and complained that the governor's mandate would intrude on families' lives. Lawmakers also were outraged that he didn't consult with them before issuing the order.
The bill they sent to the governor last month bars state officials from requiring the shots for four years. Lawmakers could then extend the ban or allow health officials to add the shots to the list of vaccinations required for school attendance.
The vaccine protects girls and women against strains of the sexually transmitted virus that cause most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. Merck & Co.'s Gardasil is the only HPV vaccine on the market.
Republican Rep. Dennis Bonnen bristled at the governor's criticism of his bill.
"We should not and are now not going to offer the 165,000 11-year-olds in Texas up to be the study group for Merck to find out what the implications of this vaccine would be for these girls," he said.
About half of all men and women are infected with HPV at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency recommends that girls get the vaccine when they are 11 or 12 so they will have immunity before they become sexually active.
Bills have been introduced in about 20 states to require the vaccine.