Opinion

The science on vaccination safety is clear. Why is Gov. Newsom waffling on SB 276?

Here’s the scene at contentious vaccine bill hearing at state Senate

A hearing at the state Capitol on SB 276, which would require public health officials to approve exceptions to vaccination requirements, drew a large crowd outside the Senate hearing room on Wednesday, April 24, 2019.
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A hearing at the state Capitol on SB 276, which would require public health officials to approve exceptions to vaccination requirements, drew a large crowd outside the Senate hearing room on Wednesday, April 24, 2019.

It’s time for Gov. Gavin Newsom to pick a side in the debate over vaccines. Will he choose science and public health? Or will he side with conspiracy theories and the spread of dangerous yet preventable diseases?

We think the choice is clear, but Newsom seems uncertain. After signaling his intention to sign Senate Bill 276 earlier this summer, the governor seems to be waffling at the last minute.

SB 276, authored by State Senator Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, aims to prevent “unscrupulous” doctors from providing baseless medical exemptions to parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children. The bill would crack down on doctors who allow parents to evade the state’s immunization laws by providing unjustified medical exemptions. It would still allow the statistically small percentage of children who need medical exemptions to get them.

Supporters of the bill argue that it’s necessary because the number of medical exemptions has more than quadrupled since the state banned exemptions based on “personal belief” in 2015, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Californians generally embrace modern science. Some 73 percent of Californians strongly support the state’s mandatory vaccine law, according to a recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California. Yet a small but loud group of anti-vaccine activists have made SB 276 – a straightforward public health bill rooted in medical science – into one of the year’s most contentious political debates.

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Legislators supporting SB 276 have been targeted with death threats and, in the case of Pan, physical violence. In August, an anti-vaccine activist assaulted Pan, a doctor, as he walked in downtown Sacramento.

The anti-vaccine movement is rooted in misinformation and anti-science paranoia. At its core, the anti-vaccination movement is not about vaccines. It’s an anti-government conspiracy theory. In order to believe the anti-vaccination line, you have to believe the government is working to cover up a big, harmful secret. It’s paranoid thinking.

Yet despite its unhinged nature, the anti-vaccine movement appears to have found sympathetic ears in the State Capitol. Senate Republicans voted against SB 276, which passed with a vote of 28-11. And now Gov. Newsom is telegraphing some queasiness about signing the bill, despite expressing support earlier this summer.

On Tuesday, the governor asked the Legislature to make further changes to the bill. Specifically, he “requested last-minute changes that would include new protections for doctors who could face legal risk,” according to a Sacramento Bee story by Hannah Wiley and Sophia Bollag.

The state Senate responded by sending the bill to Newsom, putting him on the spot. After all, the governor publicly said he would sign the bill after Dr. Pan made changes at his request. Now Newsom appears to be moving the goalposts again.

With dangerous diseases like measles making an unwelcome comeback due to anti-vaccination paranoia, Gov. Newsom has every reason to sign SB 276 without delay. It’s time for the governor to stop equivocating and make it clear where he stands on vaccinations.

To let the governor know where you stand, call his office at 916-445-2841.

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