The latest flareup of a conflict between vaccine skeptics and an inoculation-championing state senator has moved from a Capitol corridor to the realm of hashtags.
A 2015 bill requiring California children to be fully vaccinated to enroll in school fomented the year’s most visible fight. Waves of red-clad parents regularly flooded the Capitol to protest what they called an infringement on parental rights. They targeted much of their ire at the bill’s author, Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, who endured violent threats.
Opponents failed. Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 277 into law. But the Sacramento screening of a controversial movie claiming vaccines are unsafe – an allegation the vast majority of public health experts and doctors have consistently rejected – returned some furor to California’s capital.
On Monday, Vaxxed producer Del Bigtree arrived at Pan’s office without an appointment to talk. After Pan exited without granting an audience, Bigtree pursued him down a hallway.
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“He darted out,” Bigtree said in a followup interview during which he linked “defective” vaccines to rising autism rates. “You’d think people wouldn’t be wanting to put children in harm’s way, and that’s what we believe Sen. Pan has done.”
Posts recounting the incident, including a video, have circulated among vaccine skeptics who have gleefully promoted the hashtag #PanRan (they’ve also leveled more threats; one wrote on Facebook she hopes Pan gets hit by a bus).
Not so fast, said Pan communications director Shannan (Velayas) Martinez. She started firing off tweets on Wednesday arguing that her boss simply strolled away and then Bigtree couldn’t keep up. Naturally, it comes with its own hashtag (#del2slow), and suggests Bigtree is unfit – “Appears #Vaxxed producer @delbigtree not used to stairs and displays poor fitness. #del2slow #SB277 @DrPanMD.
“The lies and misinformation that these extremists are spreading is frightening and dangerous,” Martinez said in a followup interview. “It’s time for the people who support science to pay attention.”