Capitol Alert

Anti-vaccine talk is an ‘attack on our nation’s health’ and must end, California lawmaker says

A California lawmaker and vaccine-advocate has written a letter to the U.S. surgeon general, Vice Adm. Jerome Adams, urging him to make vaccination a public health priority.

Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, who also is a pediatrician, has been a champion of vaccination laws, including the 2015 California law mandating that parents vaccinate their school-age children.

“Our nation requires your leadership to stop this attack on our nation’s health by addressing the spread of vaccine misinformation causing unwarranted vaccine hesitancy and recommending policies that restore community immunity which protects our children and the most vulnerable among us,” Pan wrote.

After nearly being eradicated, infectious diseases such as measles have seen a resurgence in the United States in recent years, a result of a vocal anti-vaccination movement that often touts the disproven theory that vaccines can cause children to develop autism.

One of the most prominent supporters of that theory, British Dr. Andrew Wakefield, has since been discredited from practicing medicine in the United Kingdom.

The State of Washington has declared a public health emergency as a result of a recent measles outbreak that has affected more than 60 people.

Pan’s letter cited several online groups, many of them active on Facebook, who have spread disinformation about the safety of vaccines in recent years.

“As we just celebrated Presidents’ Day, I would recall George Washington mandated smallpox inoculation of his army during the Revolutionary War to ensure our country’s freedom,” Pan wrote in his letter to Adams. “I call on you to protect our right as Americans to be free of preventable diseases in our own community.”

Pan’s letter also comes as prominent conservatives have voiced skepticism toward, and repeated false information about, vaccine safety.

Darla Shine, wife of White House Communications Director Bill Shine tweeted a false claim that getting measles can “keep you healthy & fight cancer.”

President Donald Trump, too, has falsely linked vaccines to autism in the past, including in a 2014 tweet where he wrote, “Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes - AUTISM. Many such cases!”

In his letter, Pan wrote that the “deliberate spread of vaccine information discouraging vaccination” requires the surgeon general to “stop this attack on our nation’s health by addressing the spread of vaccine misinformation.”

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.