Presidential contender Michele Bachmann, struggling to regain her momentum among tea partyers, quickly pounced on the issue.
"To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong,” she said during the debate Monday night.
Ms. Bachmann also criticized Perry for what she later called “crony capitalism” – receiving campaign contributions from drugmaker Merck, manufacturer of the Gardasil product designed to prevent the HPV virus linked to cervical cancer.
"If you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended," Perry responded, suggesting that any campaign contributions from the drug manufacturer had been inconsequential.
But the Washington Post reported this week that Perry’s gubernatorial campaigns in fact received nearly $30,000 from Merck, most of it before he issued his 2007 executive order mandating the vaccine (which was later overridden by the Texas Legislature).
Citing data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the Post also reports that “Merck and its subsidiaries have also given more than $380,000 to the Republican Governors Association (RGA) since 2006, the year that Perry began to play a prominent role in the Washington-based group.”