The anti-vaccination debate took center stage again this week after actress Jessica Biel paid a visit to Assemblymembers in Sacramento this week, alongside controversial anti-vax activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. As KRON 4 reports, the pair were at the California capitol to lobby against a vaccination bill, SB276, which would allow the state to override medical exemptions for vaccinations issued by doctors. After receiving harsh criticism for taking an anti-vaccination stance, the actress took to Instagram to confirm that while she still "support[s] children getting vaccinations," but, "I believe in giving doctors and the families they treat the ability to decide what’s best for their patients."
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This week I went to Sacramento to talk to legislators in California about a proposed bill. I am not against vaccinations — I support children getting vaccinations and I also support families having the right to make educated medical decisions for their children alongside their physicians. My concern with #SB276 is solely regarding medical exemptions. My dearest friends have a child with a medical condition that warrants an exemption from vaccinations, and should this bill pass, it would greatly affect their family’s ability to care for their child in this state. That’s why I spoke to legislators and argued against this bill. Not because I don’t believe in vaccinations, but because I believe in giving doctors and the families they treat the ability to decide what’s best for their patients and the ability to provide that treatment. I encourage everyone to read more on this issue and to learn about the intricacies of #SB276. Thank you to everyone who met with me this week to engage in this important discussion!
Kennedy lauded her Instagram post as "courageous," and as the New York Times reports, this all "prompted a swift and furious response" from those who believe in vaccinations, and in preventing things like measles.
California has been at the forefront of the vaccination debate since 2015, when a large measles outbreak was traced back to a single child at Disneyland. According to this Atlantic article, the outbreak occurred in part due to a lack of herd immunity for the disease, which requires 94% of immunized children. At the time, the number was 90%, leaving room for an outbreak. This led to the implementation of a law eliminating so-called "personal-belief" exemptions in the state, which increased herd immunization to a healthy 95%.
The trend for eliminating personal-belief exemptions is now growing to include states like New York, Maine and Connecticut. Personal-belief exemptions are a common practice now among doctors who are not only imparting their beliefs related to vaccines, but are specifically marketing themselves to anti-vaxxer parents. This loophole is an expansion of a once purely religious-belief exemption. For families whose doctors do not offer such exemptions, parents are looking towards doctors with questionable medical backgrounds and who may not even treat children adequately. And the Atlantic notes that while it would legally be considered "medical neglect" to refuse to treat an infected cut, say, with anti-biotics, there has yet to be a state law that equates careless vaccine exemptions with neglect.
As 2019 marks the highest number of measles cases in the US in 20 years, California lawmakers are feeling the need to step in and review doctor exemption cases. SB276 targets doctors who may be trying to profit from vaccination hysteria and the lack of education of parents who identify as anti-vax. These doctors would be legally penalized under the bill, and/or educated to prevent further suspicious practices.
With her public lobbying efforts, Biel joins fellow "anti-vax" celebrities Jenny McCarthy and Robert DeNiro as targets for the ire of the pro-vaccination majority.
The bill, which passed the state Senate in May, is headed to the Assembly this summer.