Rick Perry Punched a Texas-Sized Hole Into the Vaccination Law

As governor he signed into law an exemption "for reasons of conscience" when there had only been one for religion before.

As Rand Paul and Chris Christie have flailed out in the open on the topic of vaccinations, other potential Republican presidential candidates have stood back, taken note, and sprinted in the opposite direction.

One such politician is Rick Perry, former governor of Texas and current professional ice cream eater. On Tuesday, his spokesman, Travis Considine, said Perry “strongly believes in protecting life and has sought to improve the health and well-being of Texans in a variety of ways, including increased immunization rates.”

That’s not entirely accurate though.

While the number of immunized children rose from just 65 percent in 2002 to over 95 percent in 2014 (according to the Texas Department of State Health Services), there has been a 100 percent increase in the number of parents choosing to opt-out of vaccinations over "conscience.”

That’s because Perry signed a bill as governor giving that option to anti-vaxx parents.

In 2003, the legislature passed HB 2292, a Texas-sized reorganization of the state’s health and services that contained a clause stipulating that parents of elementary or secondary school age children could decide not to vaccine them “for reasons of conscience, including a religious belief.”

Previously, parents could only get their kids away from the doctor’s needle if vaccinations “conflict with the tenets and practice of a recognized church or religious denomination of which the applicant is an adherent member…”

Subsequently, the number of children exempted from vaccinations rose from 2,314 in 2003 to 38,197 in 2014.

Vaccines have been a political problem for Perry for longer than other potential Republican candidates. In 2011 while running for president, the TX mandate that girls as young as 12 receive the HPV vaccine came under fire from his GOP rivals - particularly those of the Tea Party faction, like Michele Bachmann. Perry ultimately walked back his support for the mandate, calling it a "mistake."

Reached for comment, Perry spokesman Travis Considine told The Daily Beast: "Gov. Perry thinks parents should vaccinate their children, and would support tightening Texas' vaccination guidelines."

By way of explanation for Perry signing off on something that ultimately did the opposite of what he now purports to support, Considine noted that the Texas Constitution only allows governors to line-item veto appropriations. "He did not have the power to remove the clause in this instance."