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Vaccination bills signed amid angry protests

Demonstrators outside the governor's office in the state Capitol protesting vaccination legislation. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Amid shouting and pounding on doors by hundreds of vaccination opponents, Gov. Gavin Newsom late Monday signed two bills designed to limit medical exemptions for school vaccinations.

Hundreds of vaccination opponents delayed state Senate action on the bills for two hours by shouting from the gallery and displaying an upside-down American flag. At least one protester was removed by police. Overall, six people were arrested. Two women briefly chained themselves to Capitol doorways as part of the protest.

“This goes past vaccines and is again a major government overreach … Our medically fragile children are what are at stake,” said Republican Assemblyman Devon Mathis of Visalia during the Senate debate.

The bills, SB 276  and SB 714, would give the state Department of Public Health authority to review medical exemptions to vaccination issued by physicians.

Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat and the author of the legislation, disagreed.

“I thank the governor for standing with science, and once again making California a leader in safeguarding children and communities from diseases that threaten our public health. It is my hope that parents whose vulnerable children could die from vaccine-preventable diseases will be reassured that we are protecting those communities that have been left vulnerable because a few unscrupulous doctors are undermining community immunity by selling inappropriate medical exemptions,” Pan said in a written statement issued moments after Newsom acted.

Newsom signed the legislation following weeks of intense negotiations over the issue and repeated demonstrations in the Capitol.

The bills, SB 276  and SB 714, would give the state Department of Public Health authority to review medical exemptions to vaccination issued by physicians. If an exemption is rejected as invalid, the issuing physicians would then be able to appeal the decision to a review panel. Among other things, follow up bill SB 714 would give children grace periods that could last several years on existing medical exemptions and would allow officials to revoke any medical exemptions written by a doctor who has faced disciplinary action.

Newsom demanded, and received, amendments via SB 714 concerning the timeline for implementation and confidentiality of the exemption forms to be reviewed.  He signed the bills an hour after they reached his desk Monday.

Some parents angrily argued it interferes with their decision-making about their children’s health. During earlier consideration of Pan’s bill on Aug. 28, vaccination opponents staged noisy demonstrations inside and outside the Capitol.

Two days later, during the Assembly’s health committee hearing on the bill, opponents, frequently accompanied by their children, stood on seats and screamed their opposition.

“You’re going to kill more children!” one protester yelled.

Another shouted, “You should be ashamed!”

Pan, a pediatrician, was shoved by a vaccine protester who accused him of treason as Pan emerged from a downtown Sacramento restaurant. The protester, Kenneth Bennett, was cited for assault. A poster displayed at the Capitol protest featured Pan’s face spattered with red. A protest organizer denied that the red spatter was designed to look like blood. Pan has also been subjected to death threats.

Supporters of the measure have argued it is needed to prevent some physicians from skirting the rules by issuing improper exemptions that compromise public health.

Newsom demanded, and received, amendments via SB 714 concerning the timeline for implementation and confidentiality of the exemption forms to be reviewed.  He signed the bills an hour after they reached his desk Monday.

Pertusis, or whooping cough, has also seen a dramatic increase in reported cases.

Foes of the legislation cited several reasons for their opposition.

Some believe that pharmaceutical companies can’t be trusted, while many opponents expressed a mistrust of science or fear of the government. Some parents said they prefer “natural” treatments instead.

But Pan and others in the medical community noted a refusal to vaccinate has led to the reemergence of infectious diseases in areas where they had been eradicated or nearly gone.

A widespread 2014-2015 measles outbreak originated in Disneyland and resulted in an estimated 125 people contracting the disease.

In 2014, there were over 600 reported cases. Physicians say measles is a potentially deadly disease, and health experts contend that parents refusing to vaccinate their children are the cause behind its resurgence.

Pertusis, or whooping cough, has also seen a dramatic increase in reported cases.

Fear of vaccines is not new. Opposition goes as far back as the 18th century in England, whenRev. Edmund Massey called the vaccines “diabolical operations” in a 1772 sermon, “The Dangerous and Sinful Practice of Inoculation.” Vaccination, he said,was an attempt to oppose God’s punishments upon man for his sins.

Opposition to vaccination is spread across California in clusters:

A study in the journal Pediatrics listed the vaccine refusal rates as the East Bay (10.2 percent refusal rate); Marin and southwest Sonoma counties (6.6 percent refusal); northeastern San Francisco (7.4 percent); northeastern Sacramento County and Roseville (5.5 percent); and south of Sacramento (13.5 percent).

By comparison, the vaccine refusal rate outside these clusters is 2.6 percent.


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